Specialist police officers were at Gatwick Airport to help tackle the problem of young women becoming victims of female genital mutilation (FGM).
Officers from Sussex Police joined border staff yesterday (Wednesday May 7) as part in a national operation to raise awareness of the practice.
A police spokesman said the operation focused on a flight that originated in Sierra Leone, an area in which FGM is often carried out.
He added: “A multi-agency approach was taken which involves UK Border Agency, NHS staff and Sussex Police because intelligence suggests that children considered most at risk of FGM are taken back to their country of origin at the start of school holidays, allowing their wounds to heal before they return home to the UK.”
FGM is illegal in the UK and under the FGM Act 2003 it is also illegal for girls who have permanent residency in the UK to be taken overseas to have FGM anywhere in the world.
Those who are involved or facilitate this process are guilty of offences that carry a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.
The spokesman said officers spoke with six families with young girls on the flight but were satisfied that none of the children had been taken abroad for FGM.
Detective Inspector Andy Richardson said: “This operation aimed to gather intelligence on this subject and in the process finding girls who have recently undergone FGM who could be in need of medical attention is something our officers are focused on doing.
“We are determined to ensure that offenders are prosecuted and brought to justice.
“It is extremely difficult to detect and investigate FGM because it is a taboo subject that families and communities involved in the practice keep to themselves.
“There is intelligence that girls in the UK have been the victims of FGM but we need help from members of the community to prevent it remaining a hidden crime.
“Most children who become the victim of FGM have no idea of what is going to happen to them when they are taken out of the UK.”
Detective Inspector Jacqui Jenkins said: “This operation is part of wider work being undertaken by Sussex Police to support those that have been affected by this brutal crime and to hold to account those responsible for perpetuating it.
“This is a hidden problem that affects thousands of children and young women in the UK and there are no legitimate cultural or religious reasons for FGM.
“This is completely unacceptable and something that we all have a responsibility to try to prevent. Our collective ignorance may cost a child her life and I urge anyone that suspects a child to be in danger of either having or having had FGM to report their concerns to police.”
If you or someone you know is in immediate risk of harm you can call the emergency services by dialling 999.
If you are an adult who has been a victim of FGM please call Sussex Police on 101.
Specialist adult protection teams will be able to assist you. If you are concerned about a child, specialist child protection teams will also be able to assist.
Alternatively there are charitable organisations able to provide advice and support for victims of FGM.
The NSPCC can be contacted on 0800 0283550 (available 24/7) or via email on email@example.com.
Daughters of Eve can be contacted via the charity’s website or by text on 07983 030488.