Young girls are being subjected to life-threatening genital mutilation at the hands of their own families with police warning they will investigate any suspected cases of the barbaric practice.

A task group of GPs, school nurses and midwives, has now been set up in Bradford to raise awareness of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – a practice which involves the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs for cultural reasons, sometimes carried out with rusty razors.

FGM is prevalent in 28 African countries and it is estimated more than 20,000 girls under 15 are at high risk of FGM with 66,000 women in the UK, including an estimated 120 women in Bradford being seen by healthcare professionals at Bradford Royal Infirmary in the last 18 months.

It is believed FGM happens in the UK as well as overseas, often in the family’s country of origin, when girls of school age are often taken overseas during the school summer holidays.

Now health care workers in Bradford are being trained to ask women about FGM, who may either want, or be under pressure to have FGM performed on their own daughters.

If the health professional has significant concerns around the risk of FGM to a child, guidance will be sought urgently from the Safeguarding Children’s Services.

Detective Sergeant Andy McGrath, of the Bradford District Safeguarding Unit, a task group member, said it was important communities realised FGM was a form of violence and abuse against women and girls.

He said: “As far as the police are concerned it is domestic abuse and we treat it extremely seriously. As police we have a duty to protect vulnerable people in society. If we get a report it will be dealt with professionally. It is culturally sensitive so it would be dealt with by a trained investigator but we would fully investigate.”

Task group member Ruth Dixon, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s lead for tackling violence against women and girls, said: “We need people to know that it is not acceptable and stop female children from being mutilated. The short term implications for the girl is severe pain and emotional shock. It is done by parents and extended family members with no anaesthetic, using rusty razor blades which leads to infections and internal damage, urine retention and, ultimately, they can die.

“When the team in Bradford looked at the number of women who may have been affected locally, we found that about 120 women had been cared for at Bradford Royal Infirmary in the last few years, who had probably had FGM based on the prevalence levels in their country of origin.”

The task group recently met with a group of women from the Frontline Initiative in Manningham who come from high risk areas. The women told the task group they wanted health professionals to ask them directly about FGM and also to show them pictures of the types of FGM as the preferred method of describing the mutilation they have undergone.

The women used the term “cutting” to describe the practice, which can cause problems during pregnancy and childbirth. By alerting health professionals they can be referred to a consultant who can carry out a procedure prior to birth, to enable the baby to be delivered naturally.

Miss Dixon said: “We will train and provide information to health professionals so that when a mother who has undergone FGM gives birth to a baby girl, she will be given clear advice and support to ensure that the child is not mutilated.”