Within European Union member states, a variety of methodologies is used to collect data to measure prevalence, with the result that it is impossible to compare the data. Being able to ascertain the prevalence within member states is of paramount importance in developing effective policy, legislative and financial measures to prevent and combat FGM as well as to assess the results of their implementation.
The need for an estimation of the prevalence of FGM in Europe has been stressed a few times by European institutions (see the Communication from the European Commission to the European Parliament and Council, November 2013, and the Parliament resolutions 2014/2511; 2017/2936).
Prevalence data is useful to:
Assess trends (if data is not collected systematically, no trends in increase or decrease of prevalence can be established);
Inform decision making/policy-making;
Determine resource allocation.
It should be noted, however, that prevalence studies yield sensitive data and can be used for ideological/political reasons. One should therefore carefully think through the presentation of the results and address it carefully to the audience to the audience they are meant for.
Italy has recent FGM prevalence studies. A prevalence study commissioned by the Department of Equal Opportunities in 2009 estimates the number of women with FGM by extrapolating prevalence data from FGM-practising countries in Africa to migrant women legally residing in Italy from these countries (excluding women from Asian countries) and reducing this prevalence estimate to take into consideration the impact of migration on FGM practices. No details are provided in the study about the method used for taking this impact factor of migration into consideration. In fact, there is no control on girls taken to their (or their parents’) country of origin during vacation, and prevalence in other EU countries demonstrates that migration does not automatically exclude FGM. Other research carried out with projects funded by Law No 7/2006 do not provide a representative picture of the prevalence of FGM in Italy, because they were conducted only in some regions or with some professionals and were qualitative in nature, to assess knowledge, opinions and experiences with FGM. There is no data related to paediatric visits, as is the case in France, which could help to monitor effectively migrant families’ behaviour on FGM, nor are hospital or medical records available for the purpose of FGM-data collection.
In Belgium, as in Italy and France, the government has taken the initiative to set aside resources to measure the extent of FGM, so and recent prevalence studies using registered data are available. All immigrant women, regardless of age upon arrival, are considered to have undergone FGM in proportion to prevalence in their countries of origin and the second generation is considered to be at risk in proportion to the prevalence in their parents’ country of origin. Belgium is among countries where hospital and/or medical records of patient registers, maternity registers, child health registers and school health registers already contain information about FGM (Leye E, Mergaert L, Arnaut C, Green SOB. “Towards a better estimation of prevalence of female genital mutilation in the European Union: interpreting existing evidence in all EU Member States” GENUS. 2014). A pilot study conducted in 2012-2015 confirmed the hypothesis that, after training and awareness-raising campaigns conducted in hospitals, health professionals registered FGM cases more systematically and accurately: existing instruments (classification, leaflets) are adequate to ensure a proper registration if doctors in hospitals are properly trained (European Institute for Gender Equality).
In France, data on women coming from countries where FGM is practiced are collected and published and, as in Belgium, relevant medical records contain information about FGM. France is also among the very few countries (together with The Netherlands, Spain and the UK) who uses child protection systems, registers and processes protecting children from child abuse to collect numbers of girls at risk or who have already been subjected to FGM and of all investigations with regard to cases of girls at risk or having undergone FGM.