Female genital mutilation: 'At-risk' girls banned from travel by new police protection order
A police force has secured the first female genital mutilation (FGM) protection order.
It prevents travel by two young girls who are thought to be at risk of being taken to Africa to undergo FGM.
Bedfordshire Police obtained the order under a law which came into force today.
The measure allows authorities to seize the passports of people who they suspect are planning on taking girls abroad for mutilation. Breaching the order is a criminal offence.
Detective Chief Inspector Nick Bellingham, of the force's 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."
The order was made at a court in Bedfordshire, and prevents the travel of two young girls who police believe may have been at risk of being taken to Africa and mutilated.
FGM is a procedure that sees the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
It is estimated that more than 20,000 girls under the age of 15 in the UK are at risk each year, yet very few cases are reported.
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 the legs, and behavioural changes.
A child may also talk about being taken away for a special ceremony, or say something has happened to them which they are not allowed to talk about.
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."
Anyone seeking more help and information about FGM is asked to contact police on 101, or the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) on 0800 028 3550 - a dedicated FGM helpline.
Equalities and Justice Minister Caroline Dinenage said: "We have fast-tracked these protection orders to make sure women and girls facing the awful threat of FGM can be kept safe.
"I am pleased that authorities are acting so quickly to use the powers.
"These orders mean girls and the communities around them now know they will have somewhere to turn, that the law is on their side and help is out there.
"The Government is committed to ending FGM. We will not stop until this horrific practice is stamped out."