LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A new app designed to educate young people about female genital mutilation (FGM) was launched in Britain on Tuesday amid a government crackdown on people who take girls abroad to undergo the practice during the summer holidays.
Britain's first FGM app, "Petals", presents facts and information about the practice, offers a quiz to test the user's knowledge and provides details on where young girls can receive help - including a direct link to an FGM advice line.
FGM involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia and can cause serious physical and psychological problems and complications in childbirth.
Some girls are at risk of being subjected to FGM, which is often seen as a gateway to marriage and a way of preserving a girl's purity, when their parents take them abroad during school holidays to visit extended family, British security forces say.
"Everyone has the right to live their life free from the fear of violence and abuse, and without experiencing the lasting trauma of female genital mutilation," Nicky Morgan, Britain's minister for women and equalities, said.
"We need to raise awareness of this barbaric practice and ensure people know it is unacceptable and illegal," she added in a statement ahead of an event in Westminster to launch the app, which was developed at the University of Coventry.
The app was released a month after British Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to fast-track new FGM protection orders in time for the school summer holidays in Britain.
The new legislation would see people suspected of trying to take a girl abroad for FGM asked to surrender their passport and travel documents, while those who breach the orders could face up to five years in prison.
The app, which is primarily aimed at girls and young women who are at risk from FGM, can be accessed on devices including smartphones and tablets, or a laptop, via an internet browser.
It has been designed to safeguard potentially vulnerable users by protecting their anonymity and making them untraceable.
An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM, and some 66,000 girls may be at risk of the ritual. It is practiced by various ethnic minority communities in Britain, such as Somalis, Eritreans, Sudanese and Egyptians.
FGM has been a criminal offence in Britain since 1985, but new legislation in 2003 introduced a maximum prison sentence of 14 years and made it an offence for British citizens to carry out or procure FGM abroad, even in countries where it is legal.
British border force officers have since stepped up surveillance of airline passengers flying to and from countries which practise FGM, including Kenya, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Reporting by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org