More than 1,600 girls and young women living in Ireland could be at risk of female genital mutilation, according to a major new EU study.
Research has shown that up to 11% of almost 14,600 girls. aged 0-18 years, who are living here and who were born in or whose parents originated from countries where female genital mutilation (FGM) is common, were likely to be at risk of being mutilated.
The study concludes that there appears to be a low risk of girls undergoing FGM in Ireland, with the main risk emerging only if they return to their country of origin.
The study by the European Institute for Gender Equality estimates that in the lowest risk scenario, almost 160 females in Ireland were likely to face the threat of FGM. The figure rises to 1,632 in the highest risk scenario.
Ireland was chosen as one of three EU member states, along with Portugal and Sweden, in a pilot study to try and calculate the number of women and girls at risks of being mutilated and the numbers affected by FGM in the EU.
FGM refers to all procedures involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice, which is irreversible, causes serious physical and emotional pain.
It is understood that, since 2012, individuals have sought asylum in Ireland on the basis of being at risk of FGM, although no precise figures are available.
Of the 14,577 young women living in the Republic associated with countries where FGM is commonly practiced, almost 80% were born in Ireland.
The study said they were likely to be at greatest risk of mutilation as most are free to travel back to their country of origin because of their Irish citizenship.
Around 70% of those identified as at risk of FGM have a family background with Nigeria. Smaller numbers are associated with other countries including Ghana, Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, Iraq, and Cameroon.
According to earlier research, the prevalence rates of FGM range from very low (Ghana, 2%) to medium (Nigeria, 15%) to very high (Sudan, 84%).
The institute’s director, Virginija Langbakk, said the study’s findings showed that the FGM risk varies between EU member states according to the total number of first-generation migrants originating from a country with high FGM prevalence.
“The research highlights that strategies preventing female genital mutilation in the EU are effective and their success depends on co-operation between governments and the communities involved,” said Ms Langbakk.
By July 2014, 13 EU countries, including Ireland, had a specific law in place making FGM a criminal offence. The DPP said no cases of FGM has been reported to its office since such legislation was passed in 2012.
Participants in focus groups staged as part of the research seemed to have little comprehensive knowledge that FGM was illegal in Ireland or about the penalties for breaking the law.
Most claimed the greatest risk of FGM came from grandmothers and in-laws. The institute’s report said discussing FGM for participants, especially males, in focus groups held in Ireland was taboo and uncommon.
Participants noted that, in Somalia and Sierra Leone, FGM is very important and getting married is difficult for girls who have not undergone the procedure and girls can be at risk of attack, isolation, and stigma if they are not mutilated. In all countries, FGM was primarily seen as a way to prevent girls from becoming promiscuous and sexually active prior to marriage.
Although men were considered by all the groups as the head of the family with a key decision-making role, they appeared to have little say with regard to FGM for their daughters.
Further data on the prevalence of FGM is expected to become available in future from the first specialised FGM clinic in Ireland which opened in Dublin in May 2014 with clinical services provided by the Irish Family Planning Association and funded by the HSE.