I thought I was going on dream holiday to Africa – but ended up being pinned down, stripped and mutilated aged 10
LITTLE Khatra Paterson struggled to contain her excitement as she gazed up at the huge plane about to whisk her away from Britain on her first ever holiday.
Aged just 10, she had no idea the dream trip her mum had arranged for her to "see family" in East Africa was actually part of a horrific plan to subject her to female genital mutilation (FGM).
After arriving in Djibouti during the school holidays, the confused youngster was taken to a room filled with women and pinned down before her clitoris was cut off, leaving her screaming in agony.
The break from school is known as "cutting season", as it means young girls can disappear from the UK for six weeks while they have the procedure and be kept hidden while they heal – yet recovery is not a certain thing.
Some girls die from blood loss or infection caused by the mutilation, while others suffer serious or fatal childbirth complications in later years.
Recalling her horrific ordeal, Khatra, now 51, says: "I have never felt pain like that since.
"This is without any anaesthetic, parts of my anatomy being taken away from me. I screamed out for my mum and I remember a woman saying, 'this is what your mum wanted'."
She was still bleeding heavily when she boarded the plane back home days later.
Today, Khatra, from Cheshire, is a proud mother of two and a survivor of FGM, where the genitals of girls – some, just babies – are deliberately cut or mutilated.
Often, the barbaric procedure is carried out for cultural or social reasons.
There is no medical reason for FGM – but parents in some communities believe mutilating their daughters ensures they're "clean", prevents them being promiscuous and enables them to marry.
More than 200 million mutilated
More than 200 million girls and women across the world have been mutilated, with an estimated 66,000 FGM survivors living in the UK and tens of thousands of other young girls at risk.
The procedure is illegal in Britain with offenders facing up to 14 years behind bars.
But every summer, unsuspecting girls across the country are flown overseas during the school holidays by the people they trust the most to be cut with razor blades, glass shards and scissors.
They are often taken to Africa or the Middle East – but there have been reports of so-called "cutters" being flown to the UK to mutilate girls and of FGM "parties"at British homes.
Now, Sun Online has spoken exclusively to Khatra and other brave FGM survivors, as NHS Digital figures show there have been 4,120 newly recorded cases of FGM in England in just a year. These patients might have undergone the procedure in the UK or abroad.
A dream holiday that became a nightmare
For 10-year-old Khatra, going abroad during the school break was a dream come true.
The eldest of seven siblings, she had moved to the UK from Somalia as a baby and spent her childhood living in deprivation in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, with an "abusive" dad.
She recalls being elated when she heard her uncle was taking her overseas to meet relatives for the first time, telling us: "Holidays were something that didn't enter our world.
"The thought of even being on an aircraft, the child inside me was absolutely delighted."
After flying from London Heathrow to Djibouti, Khatra spent the first few days sightseeing with her relatives – but she was later taken into a room at their home, packed with women.
"I was asked whether I had any underwear on, which I did," she says. "They asked me to take it off. I remember feeling uncomfortable, a sense of wrongness."
What is female genital mutilation?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where girls' and women's genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed for no medical reason.
The procedure, also known as female circumcision or cutting, is against the law and is a human rights violation.
Campaigners say it is most commonly carried out on girls aged between five and 10, although it can happen to females younger and older than this. Some victims are only babies.
FGM can have serious short-term and long-term physical consequences, including excessive bleeding, sexual problems, infection, childbirth complications and even death.
It can also cause lifelong mental health issues, including harrowing flashbacks, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Gwen Kennedy, Director of Nursing Leadership & Quality and FGM lead for the NHS, tells Sun Online: “FGM can have devastating impact on women and girls and cause lasting physical and psychological harm.
"Everyone who works in the NHS is committed to doing everything possible to prevent this barbaric practice being forced upon more women and girls and will continue to work with the police, councils and others to prevent it while caring for victims of FGM."
"I had women at every limb, even one on my chest"
As Khatra tried to make sense of what was happening, she was suddenly grabbed by the women, who forced her to the ground then pinned down her arms and legs.
"My legs were restrained," Khatra says. "I literally couldn't move, I had women at every limb, even someone on my chest."
She then realised with horror that an elderly woman was "going into her privates" and thought: "I'm going to die". Screaming, she felt an agonising pain rip through her.
"After that, I must have been in and out of consciousness. I just remember sheer pain and when I came round, I remember being bound up and lifted on to a sofa."
Khatra was subjected to the most severe form of FGM – Type 3 – where her clitoris and labia minora were cut off and she was sutured up, leaving only a small opening.
The four types of FGM
Type 1: Removing part or all of the clitoris.
Type 2: Removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia (the lips that surround the vagina). Sometimes, the labia majora (the larger outer lips) are also removed.
Type 3: Narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a seal, which is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia.
Type 4: Pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping or burning the genitals
Bleeding on the flight back home
But before she could properly heal, she was put on a plane back home.
"I bled all the way on that flight, I didn't even dare go up to the toilet," she says.
The traumatised youngster later confronted her mum about the procedure – only to be told: "We all have to go through it, it's to create a better future for you so you can get married."
Khatra says her mum was under pressure from other community members at the time and "thought she was doing what was right for me" – but now "gets upset thinking about it".
"If she had her time again she wouldn't have put me through that," Khatra says.
Unsurprisingly, girls subjected to FGM often struggle to rebuild their relationships with their mums, aunts and grans, who have allowed – or directly participated – in their mutilation.
Hibo Wardere, who was cut aged six in Somalia, repeatedly questioned why her mum had subjected her to the shocking practice until she eventually came to an understanding.
"Looking back, that’s how she grew up and if she couldn’t cut me it would have been catastrophic for her. I wouldn’t be married. That was her situation," Hibo tells Sun Online.
But she adds: "Now I don’t accept any woman who wants to hurt their daughter, especially if you’re in the western world where you have got all this freedom as a woman.”
Cutters rip off girls' most sensitive part
Hibo, who moved to Britain in 1989 and now lives in Waltham Forest, northeast London, was a happy, carefree little girl before she was mutilated at her Somalia home.
“This woman is drenched in blood, she’s cutting off your flesh," she tells Sun Online.
"Can you imagine someone taking a razor and ripping off the most sensitive part of you?
"I don’t know how I survived that.”
Now a 49-year-old mum of seven, she still remembers the "evil" eyes of the woman who cut her.
"They haunted me for years, they were dead eyes," says Hibo, works with the charity Safe Hands.
Girls cut by medically untrained and "drunk" women
In many FGM cases, so-called "cutters" have had no medical training and use unsterile blades.
Survivor Alimatu Dimonekene, who was 16 when she was cut in Sierra Leone as a "gift" from her gran, says the woman who carried out her own procedure was drunk and untrained.
"I don’t think I was ever cleaned up afterwards," she says.
Now living in London, Alimatu believes all children, not just those from practising communities, need to be aware of FGM and the risk to girls over the summer holidays.
"Often it’s other children and friends in school who notice the changes in girls who have had FGM, either in the holidays or at other times," the campaigner tells us.
Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre – which aims to help eradicate new mutilation cases by 2030 – says most girls are aged between five and 10 when they're cut.
He tells Sun Online. “If they're going to have [FGM], six weeks would be a good time where they’d be under the radar and professionals would have no idea.”
'Cutting season' signs to look out for
Some unsuspecting girls are flown abroad during the six-week school break to undergo FGM.
The National FGM Centre, run by children's charity Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, highlights signs that UK teachers should look out for:
A female student:
- Confiding she is going to have a "special procedure" or attend a special occasion to "become a woman"
- Talking about looking forward to a long holiday to a country where FGM is prevalent
- Approaching a teacher or another adult and saying she suspects she's at risk
- Telling her pals about FGM
A female student's parents:
- Saying they are taking their daughter out of the country for a long time
- Asking permission to take their daughter out of school during term time
- Talking about looking forward to a long holiday to a country where family live and where FGM is prevalent
- Mentioning they are going to a country with a high prevalence of FGM, especially during holiday periods
The Centre adds that youngsters who have been subjected to the procedure already may experience difficulty walking or sitting down comfortably, take a long time in the toilet, or become withdrawn.
Youngsters who have undergone the procedure during the summer may return to school withdrawn, struggle to walk or sit down, or go to the toilet for long periods of time.
From September 2020, all British secondary school children will be taught about FGM as part of the new relationships and sex education curriculum, the Department for Education says.
However, primary schools can choose whether to teach it.
Yet campaigners believe it should be compulsory in primaries too (taught in a child-centred, age-appropriate way) – because many girls are of this age when they're cut.
Mr Bartholomew says: “Including FGM in the curriculum for relationship and sex Education lessons at secondary school is a welcome step forward but in many cases this is too late."
Flashbacks when giving birth
The harrowing after-effects of FGM often last a lifetime.
They can include issues with periods, repeat infections, sexual problems, traumatic memories, suicidal thoughts and childbirth complications – including death.
Hibo experienced horrific flashbacks when her legs were restrained in labour.
“Sex wasn’t fun, giving birth was 10 times harder and very painful," she says.
"With my first child, I pictured everyone in the room as my cutters. Imagine having nine or 10 cutters in your hospital room. But I heard the scream of my baby and it brought me back."
She adds of FGM: "No child in this world should ever have to experience it. The people you look up to as role models are holding you down and letting you be butchered piece by piece."
Khatra, who was left with scarring to her womb, points out that Britain used to allow clitoridectomies – a form of FGM – to be performed on women to "cure" hysteria and neurosis in the 19th century.
But since 1985, FGM has been illegal here. In 2003, it also became a criminal offence for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to take their child abroad to have female genital mutilation.
First FGM conviction in Britain
Earlier this year, a mum of three became the first person to be found guilty of FGM in Britain after hiring a "witch" to cut her toddler at their east London home.
Yet despite the changes in law and new education curriculum, Khatra believes "there's still a lot of people out there who don't know what it is and what goes on."
Today, she's married to husband Brian, 49, has two sons Morgan, 20, and Harris, 13, and runs her own successful skincare clinic KP Aesthetics, in Hale, Cheshire.
She also works with One Woman At A Time, a charity which helps women and girls at risk of FGM, forced marriage and gender-based violence and has WAG Leanne Brown, the wife of former Manchester United star Wes Brown, as its patron.
"I don't want another girl to be abused like [me]," Khatra weeps.
Hibo, who has three daughters, aged 12, 18 and 23, is also determined to fight for change – but takes comfort in the fact her own girls won't suffer the same fate she did.
And because her children share her views on FGM, she knows she will be the last in her family to be cut – any future grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be safe.
“I just love my kids," Hibo says. "If I die today, I die in peace.”
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