Children’s charity Barnardo’s is advising care professionals, including teachers, to be aware of the signs a girl may be at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) as ‘cutting season’ approaches.
The so-called season arrives at the start of the summer holidays, when potentially thousands of UK girls could be flown abroad to unwittingly undergo the procedure. Anyone who suspects a child is going overseas for this purpose should follow normal safeguarding procedures.
But these professionals can only help protect children by knowing what to look out for. Some indications may come from the child. She might:
- Begin to tell her friends about FGM
- Confide she is going to have a ‘special procedure’, or attend a special occasion to ‘become a woman’.
- Talk about looking forward to a long holiday to a country where the practice is prevalent.
- Approach a teacher or another adult if she’s aware or suspects she’s at immediate risk.
The child’s parents may unwittingly give the following clues:
- Say they are taking their child out of the country for a prolonged period of time
- Ask permission to take their daughter out of school during term time.
- Talk about looking forward to a long holiday to a country where her relatives live and where the practice is prevalent.
- Mention they are going to a country with a high prevalence of FGM, especially during holiday periods.
These include difficulty in walking or sitting down comfortably, taking a long time in the toilet, or a significant change in behaviour such as becoming withdrawn.
As the latest figures from NHS Digital show, there is still have a long way to go before new cases are stopped. There were 1,236 new cases of female genital mutilation recorded in England between January and March 2017.
Of these, 84% happened before the girl had reached her 10th birthday and 17% took place before she had turned one. In all, there were 2,102 attendances where FGM was identified or a medical procedure for the practice was undertaken.
Director of the National FGM Centre, Michelle Lee-Izu (pictured) said: "Much more needs to be done to support survivors of FGM and protect girls who are at risk. FGM is child abuse and no girl should ever have to live with the harmful physical and emotional consequences of this practice.
"We hope our reminder of the signs will help not just teachers but all agencies to prevent FGM from happening by identifying girls at risk and helping to prosecute those who fail to protect girls from this type of abuse."
For more, visit the National FGM Centre.