London faces a major challenge to tackle female genital mutilation as communities cling even more tightly to cultural traditions than in Africa, a government minister warned today.

Lynne Featherstone said some of the "hardest followers" were among the African diaspora in the capital. It means the authorities face a particularly tough task to prevent thousands of London schoolgirls being sent abroad for the horrific procedure every year.

Ms Featherstone, the International Development minister, warned that efforts to curtail the practice could be undermined by British-based families sending girls home to be mutilated. In New York before a UN summit on the issue, she told the Evening Standard: "In the UK up to 20,000 girls are at risk every year. Clearly the majority are in London.

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