- British doctors are being paid thousands for secret 'virginity repair' operations
- Involves constructing layer of skin at entrance to the vagina that can break in sex
- At least 22 private clinics offer hymenoplasty with patients flocking from abroad
- Patients believed to be 'almost exclusively Muslim' from Middle Eastern and Asian families under pressure from families
British doctors are earning thousands at a time for performing 'virginity repair' operations on young women under pressure from their traditional families, it has emerged.
It is believed they are hundreds of girls being forced to go through an intimate procedure called hymenoplasty to prove they are 'pure' for their wedding night.
Known more commonly as hymen repair, the operation involves constructing a layer of skin at the entrance to the vagina that can tear when a woman first has sexual intercourse.
It takes less than an hour and is performed under local anaesthetic.
An investigation by the Sunday Times found there to be at least 22 clinics offering the service privately, mostly in London.
One such clinic, The Gynae Centre in central London, recommends having the 'small' operation because 'the hymen is considered a token of virginity and for cultural and religious reasons can be an important factor in a new marriage. In many cases marriages are even annulled if the hymen is torn.'
Some private clinics charge up to £3,000 and lure patients with advertisements that promise the surgery can 'restore your innocence' and are '100 per cent safe'.
Campaigners have accused the clinics of capitalising on the fears of patients. The majority are young Muslim women from Middle Eastern and Asian families under pressure to be 'untouched' when they marry. Extramarital sex, or zina, is forbidden by the Koran.
Guidance from the General Medical Council (GMC) says that before undertaking any procedure practitioners must obtain a patient's 'informed consent', which 'may not be valid if it is given under pressure or duress exerted by another person'.
Dr Leila Frodsham, from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said hymen repair perpetuated 'harmful myths' about virginity.
'I think people would be surprised to know this is going on. There are a lot of people making a lot of money out of very vulnerable women,' she said.
Mohammad Masood, director of MAS Gynaecology, said requests for the procedure at his Harley Street clinic had risen four-fold since 2014.
He said his patients typically found him online and were 'almost exclusively Muslim', and that girls would be the subject to stigma if they didn't bleed when losing their virginity.
Halaleh Taheri, founder of the Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation, based in Finsbury Park, north London, said she had dealt with several cases of young women who 'grew up here' and felt they had a 'right to have sex' but were then forced into marriage. 'They don't know what to do,' she said.
She had also been contacted by mothers asking 'where they can take their girls' for the surgery: 'They are often very scared the father will find out.'
Aneeta Prem, founder of the charity Freedom, said women often feared being viewed as 'second-hand goods'. She said: 'It's a dreadful practice, but I understand why women feel under so much pressure to have it done. Sometimes the consequences are too grave not to.'
'Virginity repair' surgery is legal in the UK. Critics claim demand for the operation is based on the belief that the hymen is a 'seal' that breaks during sex.
Mr Masood denied claims that surgeons were cashing in on young women's fears. 'I have seen tragic situations where I felt as though I was saving a life. It is a very sad situation,' he said.