LACK of confidence in reporting fears over female genital mutilation (FGM) has held back prosecutions in Scotland, Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie has said.

McKelvie was speaking at the launch of a new research project aimed at tackling FGM in Scotland.

It is not known how many women and girls here are affected by the process, which covers cutting, removal and stitching of genital tissues and is commonly carried out between birth and the age of 15.

However, an estimated 200 million are affected globally.

And while FGM has been illegal here since 1985, with a prohibition on taking girls abroad for that purpose brought in 20 years later, no convictions have ever been made in Scotland.

READ MORE: New Scots: ‘If I’m forced to leave here I’ll be in real danger’

Last week a London woman became the first person in Britain found guilty of FGM in a landmark verdict following the mutilation of her three-year-old daughter.

On International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation yesterday, McKelvie joined schoolgirls from Notre Dame High in Glasgow to launch a Scottish Government-funded initiative which aims to influence policy by drawing potential solutions from the experiences of affected communities.

Led by Dr Ima Jackson of Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), it crosses cultural, religious, social and age barriers and has input from women of African descent from around Scotland.

Those taking part come from places including Ayr, Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh, with the Kenyan Women in Scotland Association (KWISA) amongst the groups involved.

Some participants said the experience had allowed them to learn about the issue for the first time, while others said it had helped break down silence on the issue within their families and communities.

Jackson said the scheme links into movements like Me Too and Black Lives Matter.

McKelvie, a former social worker, said the “extreme abuse” is “not welcome in Scotland”.

The Scottish Government is now considering responses to a consultation on its plans to toughen laws around FGM, including the introduction of protection orders for women and girls at risk.

On prosecutions, McKelvie said affected communities may not have “felt confident ... about coming forward”. She added: “We are seeing some of that start to develop now.

“I would hope that there would be a time when we don’t have to think about when is the next conviction coming because we have changed the culture so much that there is no-one we can convict, and therefore we have eradicated it at source.”