Bedfordshire Police has secured the first ever female genital mutilation protection order today - under a brand new law - to stop two young girls being taken out of the UK which they believed were "at risk of being taken to Africa and mutilated".
The order was made at a court in Bedfordshire after new legislation came in to force on Friday which allows authorities to seize the passports of people who they suspect are planning on taking girls abroad for mutilation. Breaching the order is now a criminal offence.
FGM is a procedure that sees the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
The order comes as fears grow for at least 50 girls who police fear were taken from the UK to Somalia last Saturday for FGM. Scotland Yard are investigating after Liberal Democrat peer Lady Tonge saw a group of young girls - aged between 11 and 17 - flying out of Heathrow accompanied by their mothers and grandparents.
Police estimate that more than 20,000 girls under the age of 15 in the UK are at risk of FGM each year and say very few cases are ever reported.
An estimated 115-130 million women have undergone some form of the practice worldwide and according to Unicef a quarter of those women come from Nigeria.
Detective Chief Inspector Nick Bellingham from the Public Protection Unit said: “This legislation is a really positive step forward in the fight against this horrific, cruel crime, and we’re pleased to have been able to enforce it today by issuing a protection order.
“With schools breaking up for the summer holidays today, we will continue to use this legislation where needed to prevent young girls who we believe may be at risk from being taken out of the country.
“This is child abuse, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that children are kept safe and that those responsible are caught.”
Mr Bellingham said signs that FGM may have taken place on a child include a lengthy absence from school, health problems including bladder and menstrual issues, complaints about pain between their legs, and behavioural changes.
A child may also talk about being taken away for a special ceremony, or say that something has happened to them which they are not allowed to talk about, he said.
Mr Bellingham added: “A change in law isn’t in itself enough to end this barbaric practice. I’d urge anyone who suspects that a child is at risk of FGM to contact police immediately.”