Female Genital Mutilation
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What is FGM?
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) refers to procedures that intentionally alter, mutilate or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM is medically unnecessary and can have serious health consequences, both at the time it is carried out and in later life.
FGM is a violation of the body and of the individuals human rights. It is an act of violence and gender discrimination against girls and women. FGM is a child protection concern - it causes significant harm and is classed as physical abuse. Specific FGM and child protection legislation and policy exists to protect children and young people from being subjected to the procedure. FGM is also a health concern - there are no medical benefits to the individual following FGM procedure and it is harmful because of the various gynaecological, obstetric and psychological health complications for mother and baby.
FGM is prevalent in 28 African countries and areas of the Middle and Far East, but it is increasingly practiced in the U.K. in communities with larger populations of first-generation immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
FGM is deeply embedded in some communities and is performed for cultural and social reasons. It is usually carried out on girls before they reach puberty, but in some cases it is performed on new-born infants or on women before marriage or pregnancy. It is often justified by the belief that it is beneficial for the girl or woman, but FGM is an extremely harmful practice which violates basic human rights.
The most significant risk factor for girls and young women is coming from a community where FGM is known to be practised and/or where a mother, sister or other female family member has been subjected to FGM.
Practitioners should be aware of this and provide families with advice and information which makes it clear that FGM is illegal.
What does the law say about FGM?
FGM is illegal in the UK and has been a criminal offence since 1985. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 strengthened existing law to make it an offence to arrange for a child to be taken abroad for FGM, and for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to abet, counsel, procure or undertake FGM abroad, even in countries where the practice is legal.
The Serious Crime Act 2015 (guide) extends this protection to girls under the age of 18 who are ‘habitually resident’ (or on short temporary stays) such as students and refugees. The Serious Crime Act also creates a new offence of failing to protect a girl from FGM. If an offence of FGM is committed against a girl under the age of 16, each person who is responsible for the girl at the time the FGM occurred will be liable under this new offence where the maximum penalty is seven years imprisonment, a fine, or both. A ‘responsible’person will have parental responsibility with the girl and frequent contact.
The 2015 Act also enables the high court or family courts to make a FGM Protection Order for individuals who are victims or at risk of FGM (similar to forced marriage (guide) protection orders. Victims or those at risk, or relevant third parties (including local authorities) can apply for the orders which set restrictions to protect an individual.
What to do if youre worried about a child
There are three circumstances relating to FGM which require identification and intervention:
- Where someone is at risk of FGM:
- Where someone has undergone FGM;
- Where a prospective mother has undergone FGM.
Professionals and volunteers in most agencies have little or no experience of dealing with FGM. Encountering FGM for the first time can cause people to feel shocked, upset, helpless and unsure of how to respond appropriately to ensure that a child, and/or a mother/any female adult, is protected from harm or further harm.
FGM is a form of child abuse and violence against women and girls, and therefore should be dealt with as part of existing child and adult protection structures,policies and procedures.
If you identify a female under 18 has had FGM you have a duty to report this under the Serious Crime Act (2015) to the police via the non-emergency number 101 (refer to Decision-making and Action FlowcChart for Safeguarding Children ACTUAL FGM).
If practitioners are aware, or suspect that a child or young person has undergone, or may be undergoing the procedure they should report these concerns to CarelineHub on 0151 233 3700 (concerns must be followed up in writing within one working day using the Multi Agency Refrral form (MARF.
If you feel that a child is in immediate danger: dial 999.
The Home Office has launched free online training produced by the virtual college.
It can be accessed at https://www.FGMelearning.co.uk/
This course is useful for anyone who is interested in gaining an overview of FGM, particularly frontline staff in healthcare, police, border force and children’s social care.
Healthcare professionals can also access free online training at http://www.e-lfh.org.uk/home/