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FGM or female genital mutilation in focus after London arrests

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Britain has arrested two people for allegedly conspiring to carry out female genital mutilation, police have said.

A 72-year-old man was arrested as he attempted to pass through customs at London's Heathrow Airport when he arrived in the country with an 11-year-old girl from Uganda.

A second suspect, a 40-year-old woman, was detained in Hackney under the UK's FGM Act 2003. Police have confirmed that the arrests are connected. Hackney is an inner-city borough in northeast London.

"Officers acted upon information given and a 40-year-old woman was arrested in Hackney under Section 2 of the FGM Act 2003, namely aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring a girl to carry out FGM on herself," police said in a statement.

The UK banned female genital mutilation in 1985, and in the 2003 act, made it punishable by up to 14 years in jail for attempting to take a female child out of the country in order to be circumcised. Although no one has yet been convicted of FGM, earlier this year, the government launched a campaign to get its first convictions. It came after a doctor was allegedly promoting the practice to young girls.

The doctor and an accomplice are to go on trial in January next year.

While it is a practice that is conducted in certain areas of Africa and the Middle East, FGM has been the focus of a concerted effort by international organizations in recent years to promote education and understanding of the issue, which has seen its overall numbers decline.

FGM is a procedure that involves removing part or all of the clitoris and, in it's most extreme form, performing something called infibulation, removing the entire outer lips around the vagina to narrow the vaginal opening by creating a seal using skin from the labia. Those who force the procedure on young girls believe it will reduce a woman's sexual desire and therefore lessen the chances of infidelity. While some conservative Christian groups have argued it is part of the dangers of Islam, it stems from historical cultural practices to subjugate women in some regions, but through education has been on the decline recently.

Human rights organizations and medical groups have reported that they believe there are some 66,000 victims of such a practice currently living in England and Wales, with an additional 24,000 girls under age 15 who are presently at risk of being forced to undergo FGM.

Health risks to women who have undergone the procedure include severe bleeding, problems in urination and persistent urine infections, chronic vaginal and pelvic infections, cysts and formation of scar tissue, and problems in pregnancy leading to newborn deaths. Women also may suffer mental health issues from the psychological trauma of undergoing the procedure, which is often done without anesthetic.

UNICEF estimates that three million girls in Africa undergo FGM annually. The practice is a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989.

It is illegal to perform FGM in the United States based on a 1996 law. That law was passed shortly after asylum was granted to a girl fleeing to the U.S. to avoid cutting and an arranged marriage at her home in Africa, and was based on recognizing FGM as a form of gender-based persecution. In 2013, Section 1088 of the National Defense Authorization Act was signed into law in the U.S. that makes it illegal to transport a girl out of this country to have the procedure done elswhere, a practice referred to as "vacation cutting."

It is estimated 228,000 American women and girls are at risk of FGM, according to research from the African Women's Health Center of the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

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