Only 18 of the new specialist protection orders designed to safeguard young girls at risk of female genital mutilation have been issued in the three months since they were introduced, according to official figures. The revelation prompted calls from the head of the new National FGM Centre for teachers, social workers and health professionals to be "braver" when identifying girls at risk and alerting the authorities.

The few orders so far contrast with estimates of the scale of FGM which, though illegal in the UK, persists in some communities. A report by academics at City University, based on 2011 census data and Office for National Statistics birth figures, suggested that 63,000 girls were at risk of FGM, and 170,000 women aged 15 and over living in England and Wales today had undergone it. The government introduced initiatives this year centred on the introduction of FGM protection orders which allow concerned third parties, such as social workers, to apply for girls to be made subject to protection orders issued by family courts. Breach of an order is a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of five years' jail.

However, government figures show that from July to September, the first three months the orders were in operation, only 28 applications were made, of which 18 were approved.

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