“It was painful, so painful, there was blood everywhere,” Yeabu recalls. “There were other people watching in the room. They were singing their own songs. They were happy when they were cutting me.”
Yeabu* was 16 when her parents sent her to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sierra Leone, telling her afterwards: “You’ve become a proper woman now.”
She says she remembers knowing what was going to happen to her, but was too frightened to fight after seeing other children held down while fighting and biting the cutters.
“As a young girl you have to do it because for them it’s decency,” she explains. “When you’re with your man you are clean if you do that, that’s the mentality.
“I was frightened but we don’t disrespect our people. I they say that’s part of our tradition we have to go through it, but it’s not something I wanted.”
Yeabu, now 35, sought asylum in the UK but her injuries were only discovered by doctors when she gave birth to her children.
The Independent met Yeabu at Heathrow Airport, where officers tasked with stopping people arriving from countries where FGM is prolific offered her support. She was among hundreds of passengers met by police, Border Force officers and specialists from the National FGM Centre, who questioned travellers from countries with high rates of the irreversible practice and other linked abuses such as forced marriage, breast ironing and witchcraft beliefs are rife.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, maimed or changed without a medical reason.
It is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, before puberty starts, for various cultural, religious and social reasons in the mistaken belief that it will benefit the girl.
It’s very painful and can seriously harm…