Britain will make it compulsory for teachers and health workers to report cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) to authorities with a view to prosecuting parents, Prime Minister David Cameron announced ahead of an inaugural Girl Summit on Tuesday.
Taking place in London, the first ever such meeting, co-hosted by the UK and the United Nations on the rights of young women, is aimed at mobilizing global efforts to ending FGM and child marriage.
As part of British efforts to crack down on the practice of “cutting,” Cameron pledged $2.4 million of funding for an FGM prevention program in Britain, alongside new laws that would see parents taken to court if they fail to prevent daughters from undergoing the procedure. He also outlined programs to prevent child and forced marriage in 12 developing countries.
Around 20,000 girls in the U.K. are thought to be at risk of undergoing the procedure, according to statistics released at the event.
"I'll make reporting FGM mandatory for doctors, teachers and social workers. Let's end this abhorrent practice once and for all," Cameron said on Twitter.
The partial or total removal of external female genitalia is a tradition practiced widely in African and many Muslim countries. It is often justified as a means of suppressing a woman's sexual desire to prevent "immoral" behavior.
The practice is not exclusive to Muslim countries. In Niger, 55 percent of Christian women have undergone the procedure, while two percent of Muslim women there have experienced some form of cutting, according to a 2013 U.N. report. Some 30 million girls worldwide will be at risk of undergoing the procedure over the next decade, the report said.
FGM has been a criminal offense in the U.K. since 1985, but new legislation in 2003 introduced a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. The 2003 act also made it an offense for British citizens to carry out or procure FGM abroad, even in countries where the practice is legal.
Earlier this year, a doctor became one of two men to face trial in the U.K.'s first prosecution for FGM.
Around 103,000 women between the ages of 15 and 49, and another 10,000 girls aged below 15 who have migrated to England and Wales, are estimated to have undergone FGM, according to a report from City University, London.
Tuesday's summit, attended by 500 delegates from 50 countries, aims to create an international charter that will also tackle the issue of child marriage.
More than 700 million women alive today were married before they turned 18, UNICEF, the U.N.'s child rights agency said Tuesday. Figures released by UNICEF say child brides are most common in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and about one in three — or some 250 million — were married before they turned 15.
India alone accounts for a third of all the world's child brides, the agency said. Poorer girls are much more vulnerable. While the wealthiest girls in India marry at around 20 years old, the poorest do so at an average age of 15.
"Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence," UNICEF said. "Young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s. Their infants are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life."
The agency said that while the percentage of girls being married as children is slowly declining, population growth means that the absolute numbers will remain high unless more drastic action is taken.
Al Jazeera and wire services