A BOURNEMOUTH woman has spoken out about how she was held down and forced to undergo horrific female genital cutting at the age of five.

Brave Salimata Badji Knight decided to speak out in a bid to highlight the disturbing practice, which affects an estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales.

She was forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) during a family visit to see her grandmother in Senegal, after being told she was going on a picnic with other women and girls from the community.

"I remember it was very green, with beautiful sunshine and birds chirping above me," recalled Salimata. "But then it was my turn and the fear kicked in, everything went silent.

"I was feeling this energy that I never felt before - I was in shock."

Salimata, who wants to raise awareness of the NSPCC's FGM helpline, said she remembered hearing the screams of the other girls that went before her - also too young to understand what was happening.

As the youngest of the group she was the last one to be led away, and held down by three women.

"And before I knew - the shock of my life," she said. "Something very sharp within the top of my legs.

"I didn’t know what was happening but I was so hurt.

"There was no anaesthetic, I bled and passed out."

Salimata, who today is unable to have children because of what happened to her, says it was the older women of the community that performed the FGM.

"Records of this 'tradition' go back as ancient Egypt, when Pharaohs and the aristocracy are believed to have cut bits of skin as a sign of distinction - as a sign of identity.

"Some African nations still practice some body and facial marks, to distinguish themselves from other people from surrounding areas.

"Another girl died that day. I truly believe that if I was not as strong a little girl, I would not have survived."

FGM is the term used to describe procedures that involve the removal of part or all of the external female genitalia.

World health experts say it has absolutely no health benefits for women or girls, but numerous - some deadly - complications.

It is also known as female circumcision or cutting and is usually performed by someone with no medical training. Girls are given no anaesthetic, no antiseptic treatment and are often forcibly restrained.

Salimata only realised she'd become a victim of FGM in her late teens.

Today she works to campaign against FGM, and to help other girls and women affected.

Anyone who is concerned that a child is at risk of or has experienced FGM can speak to an NSPCC FGM helpline advisor on 0800 028 3550, or email fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk so that appropriate action can be taken.

Visit www.nspcc.org.uk/fgm fopr more information.