The National Health Sserice will advertise free operations to reverse female circumcisions, with experts warning that each year more than 500 British girls have their genitals mutilated.

Despite having been outlawed in 1985, female circumcision is still practiced in British African communities, in some cases on girls as young as 5. Police have been unable to bring a single prosecution even though they suspect that community elders are being flown from the Horn of Africa to carry out the procedures.

The advertisement will appear from next month on a Somali satellite TV station much viewed in Britain. It features Juliet Albert, a midwife who does the reverse operations, and promises, in English and Somali, confidentiality for victims of female genital mutilation.

The advertisement was expected to help to undermine demand for girls to be circumcised, and to popularize the reversal procedure, Albert said. Thousands of such operations have been carried out at specialist clinics and hospitals around Britain and demand is growing slowly.

Female circumcision, which is done for various reasons, such as religious and cultural traditions, can cause severe health complications including infections and psychological problems. The procedure, predominantly carried out on girls aged between 5 and 12, can range from the removal of the clitoris to the removal of all the exterior parts of the vagina, which is then sewn up.

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