The United States and the UK will increase cooperation to tackle the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM). Authorities from both countries will host joint operations at airports in London, New York and elsewhere.
The purpose is to raise awareness of an issue that affects millions of girls and women across the world.
A new agreement has been signed between the two countries to enable police and border security agencies to share intelligence. The information will include when and where victims may be taken for FGM. It will also assist with identifying perpetrators. In the past week, officials targeted travel hubs including Heathrow and JFK airports and Eurostar stations.
Officials approached travellers from countries where the practice is common, encouraging people to report any concerns they may have.
FGM is the mutilation of girls' external genitals for non-medical reasons. It is also sometimes referred to as female circumcision. FGM is practiced in some two dozen African countries, parts of the Middle East and Asia.
Many immigrants and refugees in Europe and the US are affected by the practice. Some families bypass local laws by taking girls abroad to have the procedure, often during school holidays.
"It's not just in Africa and Asia... the fact is FGM is also happening in the US, it is happening here in the UK, and is still happening to our young girls when they travel abroad," said Lew Lukens, the Charge d'Affaires at the US Embassy in London. "It is still legal in much of the United States, and there are half a million victims in the United States. That's a staggering fact if you think about it."
Official figures suggest that victims of FGM in the US increased 300% to more than 500 000 between 1990 and 2016; the figures come from Mark Shaffer, who leads investigations into rights violations at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The procedure is illegal in the US on a federal level, and 26 states have outlawed it. In Britain, carrying out or facilitating the procedure is a crime, including taking the victim out of the country to have the procedure performed. It is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
According to AP, the problem facing investigators and prosecutors is that FGM is not openly discussed, and many victims face pressure to undergo the procedure from their own family members.
"Frequently, the survivor is unwilling to give evidence against those closest to them," said Commander Ivan Balhatchet, from Britain's National Police Chiefs Council. "Our intelligence picture is, quite frankly, woeful."