Only three cases of female genital mutilation have been reported in Scotland according to the Scottish Government but the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) believes it is much more widespread.
The charity said: “We believe the true number of victims is higher as only a tiny fraction come forward for medical help. Those who do are usually adults with maternity problems. In England, over 1,700 victims have been referred to specialist clinics in the last two years.”
Female genital mutilation is a child initiation ritual usually carried on girls aged between four and ten in some African, Asian and Middle Eastern communities in the UK. It is sometimes carried out on babies.
It is illegal and life-threatening and the NSPCC said it can leave young victims in agony and with physical and psychological problems that can continue into adulthood.
Carried out in secret and often without anaesthetic it involves the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs.
Lisa Harker, NSPCC Head of Strategy, said: “The UK’s child victims of female genital mutilation are hidden behind a wall of silence. Like other forms of abuse if female genital mutilation is not exposed it will continue to thrive and more children will suffer.
“Children who are at risk or victims of female genital mutilation often don’t even know it is abusive and harmful because it is done at the request of their family. They are told they are unclean and immoral if they are not ‘cut’ and that it is in their best interest.
“There is also a huge pressure within these communities to keep quiet about female genital mutilation, with some people even being threatened with violence if they speak out.
“This is why we believe a dedicated helpline with specially trained child protection advisors is needed to help overcome the difficulties in protecting children from such a complex and secretive form of abuse.”
The charity has launched an anonymous helpline seeking information to pass on to the police or social services.
Ms Harker continued: “We want this helpline to be a safe space for families who are against their daughter having female genital mutilation but feel powerless to stop it. Anyone from these communities can speak to us to get advice and help about female genital mutilation without fear of reprisal.
“Government, professionals, campaigners and the police have shown real commitment to protecting victims of female genital mutilation. We hope that this will prove to be the tipping point that will stop this barbaric abuse of children.”