Warning as young girls travel here for genital mutilation
Gardaí and health officials have issued an urgent warning over fears young girls are being mutilated in a barbaric ritual which has already left at least 4,000 women scarred for life here.
The HSE suspect young girls were trafficked into Ireland this summer from the UK to be the latest victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
It follows a clampdown on the practice in England where police in July took out the country's first FGM protection order, preventing two girls travelling to Africa. Gardaí have similar powers here under tough laws introduced in 2012.
FGM is the practice of removing or cutting the female genitalia. It is practiced among communities originating in countries like Somalia, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and Malaysia.
Charities warn most attacks on children take place during school holidays, known as the 'cutting season'.
The HSE and Gardaí are on high alert this week for suspicious movements of young girls into or out of Ireland during the mid-term break.
Claudia Hoareau-Gichuhi, a director at the Dublin-based support group Akidwa, says FGM is normally carried out on children aged between four and ten years.
"FGM is practiced seasonally with the school holidays being the time when most people are at risk," she warned.
Figures released to the Irish Independent by the Department of Health estimate that more than 3,900 girls and women living here have suffered FGM. But the statistics are three years out of date.
We have learned the Department issued an alert in July warning that they believed some school chidren were being brought to Dublin from England to be mutiliated.
"There was some intelligence that this was happening because of the clampdown at UK airports," said one source.
"But the practice is so secretive and so hidden, it is almost impossible to detect."
A spokeswoman for Tusla said the organisation works with gardaí and the HSE to deal with FGM. Gardaí are tasked with investigating the crime whilst Tusla and the HSE "play a crucial role in identifying FGM and in the medical and therapeutic response".
Teachers have also been receiving training in detecting the signs and after-effects of the practice, including pupils constantly needing to go to the toilet and in constant pain.
"People in Ireland need to be aware that this is not just an issue among migrant communities in Dublin, it is happening in towns and counties across the country," Ms Hoareau-Gichuhi added.