By Emma Batha
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The British government must stop passing the buck for the failure to bring prosecutions for female genital mutilation (FGM), a parliamentary committee said on Saturday, branding the lack of action to protect girls a "national scandal".
"While agencies play pass-the-parcel of responsibility, young girls are being mutilated every hour of every day. This is deplorable," said committee chairman MP Keith Vaz.
"This barbaric crime which is committed daily on such a huge scale across the UK cannot continue to go unpunished."
An estimated 60,000 girls in Britain are at risk of FGM and 137,000 girls and women are living with the consequences, according to a 2014 study.
The ancient ritual involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia. In its most extreme form the vaginal opening is also sewn up.
In Britain it is practised by various ethnic communities including Somalis, Eritreans, Sudanese and Egyptians.
A report by parliament's powerful home affairs committee said that in one hospital alone in Birmingham, some 1,500 cases of FGM had been recorded over the last five years, with doctors seeing six patients who have undergone the procedure every week.
Although Britain made FGM illegal in 1985 there has never been a successful prosecution.
"There seems to be a chasm between the amount of reported cases and the lack of prosecutions. Someone, somewhere is not doing their job effectively," said Vaz.
The report comes five weeks after the acquittal of a doctor in the country's first FGM trial. The case centered on whether a suture made during an emergency delivery amounted to FGM or was medically necessary.
Critics said the doctor had been made a scapegoat in a show trial.
Chief prosecutor Alison Saunders announced the trial last year just days before she was to give evidence at an inquiry by the committee into Britain's failure to tackle FGM.
But Saunders refuted suggestions the case was rushed to court because she was under pressure to be seen to be doing something.
The report said the lack of successful prosecutions was "lamentable" and suggested everyone was passing the buck on what it called an "abhorrent form of child abuse".
But prosecutors have a problem because so few cases are referred to police. Girls are often cut when very young and older girls do not want to give evidence against their families.
The committee welcomed new measures under the Serious Crime Act which will make it mandatory for teachers, doctors, nurses and social workers to report suspected cases to the police.
"This should help to bring about further prosecutions, sending a strong message both in the UK and overseas," it said.
Campaigners believe many girls are taken abroad to be cut during school holidays even though this is also a crime.
The committee also recommended that the government amend FGM legislation to make clear that it also includes female genital cosmetic surgery.
"We cannot tell communities in Sierra Leone and Somalia to stop a practice which is freely permitted on Harley Street," Vaz said.
(Reporting by Emma Batha, Editing by Ros Russell)