Today is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, a timely reminder of why we must keep this form of child abuse firmly on our safeguarding radar in educational settings.
FGM is a human rights issue, affecting girls and women worldwide. Despite UK legislative protections within the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act (1985), the Female Genital Mutilation Act (2003) and protection orders as part of the Serious Crime Act (2015), girls still remain at risk.
Regardless of the justifications given for this practice such as preservation of virginity, custom, tradition, family honour, hygiene or mistaken belief that the practice is a religious requirement; FGM is child abuse which can lead to lifelong physical and psychological suffering.
Let's be clear, no woman and girl should be subject to the risks FGM procedures present. No child should be exposed to the risks of:
- Fatality as a result of shock, haemorrhage or septicaemia;
- Infection due to insanitary conditions;
- Transmission of the HIV virus which can cause AIDS;
- Extreme levels of pain, fear, anxiety and discomfort.
or the many long-term physiological, sexual and psychological effects, some of which include:
- Kidney and or recurrent urinary retention / infection;
- Genital malformation, cysts, keloid scar formation;
- Delayed menarche (first menstrual cycle);
- Chronic pelvic complications;
- Sexual frigidity, pain during sex, lack of pleasurable sensation;
- Obstetric complications;
- Mental health difficulties, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
So here's a reminder of some of the key safeguarding factors to look out for which may increase vulnerability and / or signal a child is at risk:
- Their family originates from a community known to practice FGM;
- Their family originates from a community known to practice FGM and information is shared of intention to travel to their country of origin;
- A parent requests permission for a child to travel overseas for an extended period during the academic year;
- A parent seeks to withdraw their child from learning about FGM in your school / academy;
- A child expresses anxiety about a special ceremony or traditional custom;
- A child mentions local terms which describe the practice of FGM e.g. sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan.
- Another family member is known to have previously undergone FGM.
Whilst it is essential we focus on preventative measures, we must also crucially safeguard victims of FGM. Although not in themselves clear single indicators of FGM, there are symptoms which can collectively present that may indicate a girl has been abused in this way. So be alert if a girl:
- is having difficulty walking, standing or sitting;
- requests more frequent visits to the toilet;
- is quieter than usual, is anxious or depressed;
- is acting differently following an absence;
- is frequently absent due to frequent infections (vaginal, pelvic or urinary);
- has difficulties urinating or with incontinence;
- is having menstrual problems;
- seems reluctant to go to the doctors.
By keeping FGM awareness on the safeguarding radar we can all fulfil our duty of care to protect vulnerable girls and safeguard victims.