The Church of Scotland has welcomed a new action plan to ensure teachers, NHS staff and social workers are better equipped to spot the signs of girls and women at risk of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

Iain Whyte, Secretary of the Church of Scotland Guild, said it was vital to recognise that the human rights crime was a “problem in the UK” as well as other countries and must be addressed.

Children’s charity Unicef has published research that shows at least 200 million girls and women alive today in places like Indonesia, Egypt, Ethiopia and Somalia have undergone ritual cutting.

The plan, which aims to help consign FGM to history through prevention, protection, services and support, has been launched ahead of an International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM tomorrow.

The event has been marked by a video message from high-profile anti-FGM campaigner Christine Alfons from Kenya who has thanked The Guild for supporting the Feed the Minds Project, which aims to stamp out the heinous procedure that causes deep emotional trauma.

According to the NHS, an estimated 137,000 women in the UK are affected by FGM.

The girls may be taken to their countries of origin so that FGM can be carried out during the summer holidays, allowing them time to “heal” before they return to school.

There is also concern that some girls may have FGM performed in the UK.

Launched by Scotland’s Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil, the national plan actions include access to informed mental health services, a call on all agencies to review violence against women and girls strategies and for at least one FGM expert to be appointed by all social work offices, NHS boards and appropriate agencies

Healthcare workers, teachers and other professionals are to be given information and support to help spot the signs of FGM.

Mr Whyte said: “This new national action plan clearly recognises the breadth of issues that are involved, with the need to improve access to mental health provision, to develop social service support and, importantly, to see this as an educational issue as well as a pastoral one.

“The Church of Scotland Guild is privileged to be in partnership with the charity ‘Feed the Minds’ as it addresses the issue of FGM in Kenya.

“This is crucial work, as the practice of ‘cutting’ deeply affects girls in terms of the physical horror and the emotional trauma, but also in terms of their educational opportunities, their social and economic development and their general health.

“It is easy to think of this as something which happens in faraway places, but it is vital to recognise that it is a problem in the UK as well and one which must be addressed.

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s action plan as part of this country’s response.”

Mr Neil said FGM was an “unacceptable and illegal practice” which has absolutely no place in Scotland, or anywhere else.

“We are committed to working together to do everything possible to tackle this issue but recognise there is no easy solution to achieve this,” he added.