The failure to tackle female genital mutilation (FGM) is an 'ongoing national scandal' with as many as 170,000 victims in the UK, MPs have said.
Failures by ministers, police and other agencies have led to the 'preventable mutilation of thousands of girls' according to a report from the cross-party Commons Home Affairs Committee.
"This is a national scandal for which successive governments, politicians, the police, health, education and social care sectors all share responsibility," the report states.
In its report, the committee also stated that FGM, or female genital mutilation, may be one of the most prevalent forms of 'severe physical child abuse' taking place in Britain, with an estimated 65,000 girls under the age of 13 at risk.
The committee said a 'misplaced concern for cultural sensitivities over the rights of the child' was partly to blame for authorities' failure to deal with FGM.
The practice has been illegal in Britain since 1985, and more than 200 FGM-related cases have been investigated by police in the last five years.
However, the first prosecutions - which are currently ongoing - did not take place until this year, almost 30 years after the law was passed.
While acknowledging that the Government has started to take action against FGM, the report calls for the Government to implement a 'comprehensive and fully-resourced national action plan for tackling FGM'.
After hearing from victims, health and social workers, police and lawyers, the MPs wrote in their report that there is a case for emulating certain aspects of the French model for tackling FGM - where the large number of prosecutions has played a key role in discouraging the practice.
"There is no specific law against FGM in France," the committee wrote. "Instead perpetrators are prosecuted under general provisions of the penal code, such as acts involving intended bodily harm, causing permanent infirmity or mutilation..."
"A number of successful prosecutions would send a clear message to practising communities that FGM is taken seriously in the UK and will be punished accordingly.
"One reason behind the UK's poor record is that the police and Crown Prosecution Service have historically been far too passive in their approach to FGM by waiting for survivors to come forward and report. Yet, the nature of FGM means it is unlikely that this will happen.
Often victims do not become aware that FGM is a crime until some years after it has happened to them. Even then, they face huge social pressure not to report it.
They criticise the lack of knowledge about the practice among healthcare professionals, social workers and teachers.
"It is deeply concerning that so many frontline practitioners do not recognise the indicators of when a girl or young woman is at risk, or has undergone FGM, and, even when they do recognise the signs, they do not know how to respond," they wrote.
"It is unacceptable that those in a position with the most access to evidence of these crimes do nothing to help the victims and those at risk."
The report advises that training in this area should be an 'essential' component of child protection training.
The MPs welcomed the decision taken by education secretary Michael Gove, to send all schools in England and Wales guidance on safeguarding girls from FGM. However, they said that 70 per cent of recipients had not looked at the guidance within a month of receiving it.
They suggest that the Department of Education should withhold a proportion of a school's funding until it received notification that the guidance had been viewed.
The committee chairman, Keith Vaz, said: "We need to act immediately. We owe survivors of FGM the chance to save others from this horrific abuse. We must use every opportunity the law allows to give victims a voice."
If you have cause to suspect that a friend, neighbour, pupil or patient under your care may be at risk of undergoing FGM, you are urged to act. The NSPCC runs an FGM helpline where you can report your concerns (0800 028 3550), or you can contact police or local children's services directly.
More:Advice And Health
Suggested For You
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more