British hospitals will be required for the first time to record patients who have been subjected to female genital mutilation, the Government announced yesterday.
The Department of Health estimates 66,000 women in England and Wales are living with the consequences of the practice, and a further 23,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk every year.
But the most recent figures are from 2007, indicating a lack of clear information on the problem that the new centralised reporting system is intended to address.
From April, state-run National Health Service hospitals will have to report to the Health Ministry if a patient has suffered genital mutilation, if there is a family history of mutilation or if a related procedure has been carried out.
"Female genital mutilation is an abhorrent practice that has no place in this - or any other - society," said Public Health Minister Jane Ellison.
The procedure, which ranges from removal of the clitoris to more widespread mutilation, can lead to infection and long-term severe pain.
It is practised across the world and in particular in Africa, but also takes place among immigrant communities in Western countries.
In a statement timed to coincide with a worldwide day of action against female genital mutilation, Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said the Government was determined to prosecute those who carried out such procedures in Britain.
Female genital mutilation was made a crime in 1985, but no one has ever been prosecuted. The Times has reported the first prosecution will finally go ahead in coming weeks.
"It is child abuse and it is illegal. I am determined we do all we can to bring perpetrators to justice," Baker said. "The law in this country applies to absolutely everyone and political or cultural sensitivities must not get in the way of preventing, uncovering and prosecuting those who instigate and carry out FGM."
Meanwhile, Britain's Department for Education has come under pressure to inform teachers of the horrors of female genital mutilation, after a petition urging Education Secretary Michael Gove to intervene passed 100,000 signatures just 24 hours after it was put online.
People signed the End FGM campaign at the rate of two a second, asking that the department write to all school principals.