Calls for greater international co-operation in the fight against the horror of female genital mutilation were at the centre of a unique conference in Brussels.

Delegates to the event, organised by campaigning MEP Marina Yannakoudakis, also heard impassioned demands for the prosecution of those involved in the barbaric practice of mutilation, as a deterrent to others and as punishment for their cruel abuse of girls and young women.

Mrs Yannakoudakis, Conservative MEP for London, set the tone of the event when she said: “Female genital mutilation is a form of child abuse, pure and simple, and must be treated as such. It has been a criminal offence in the UK since 1985, but there has not yet  been a single prosecution. The latest signs are that this may be about to change at least in the UK, but for now France is the only country that seems to have pursued prosecutions actively.”

She said it was vital that international organisations came to share best practice and developed common methods for reporting and recording cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) so that the true prevalence of the problem could be measured and understood.

“I hope this event will be the first step to a much more joined-up and consistent international approach,” she said.

The gathering was the first hearing in the European Parliament to draw together such a range of experts from different fields and nationalities to share their experience and knowledge.

Speakers included Efua Dorkenoo of Equality Now UK, Anne-Katrine Galand of the European Commission’s Equalities directorate, Dr. Marlene Temmerman of the World Health Organisation, and Marlies De Jaeger of the Netherland’s Pharos Centre of Expertise, who told of innovative and integrated measures used in her country to record and reduce the prevalence of FGM.

Delegates heard moving testimony from FGM survivor Alimatu Dimonekene from London, who told the horrifying story of how she had the agony of mutilation forced upon her at the age of 16 in her native Sierra Leone. It happened at the home of her grandmother as older female relatives held her down – against the wishes of her heartbroken mother.

At the same time, she said, her six-year-old sister also had parts of her sexual organs brutally cut away, by force and using dirty instruments without anaesthetic.

Mrs Dimonekene said the horror of the experience and the lasting physical consequences had left her with problems in childbirth as well as psychological damage.

Asked whether she supported greater determination to prosecute people behind the practice of FGM, she said: “Oh yes…we are dancing around the edges of this issue and I would be very pleased to see, at least in the UK, a prosecution.

“The sooner we can get the message that this is a crime and a human-rights violation – and that there are consequences of being involved in it – the better.  I don’t want to have to talk about this much more before someone is brought to book. That’s what I’m pleading with everybody to do.”

Efua Dorkenoo said the idea that prevention and prosecution were alternative approaches to dealing with FGM created a false choice. Both were needed, she argued.

She said: “Of course prevention must be central – but prosecution is the flip side of that same coin. Because in many cases if a parent or guardian feels they can get away with it, they will.”