Aisha* is seven years-old and like many children her age, is excited about the presents and parties most of us look forward to at Christmas here in the UK. However, for Aisha, her ‘special party’ involves traveling abroad to be brutally mutilated to ‘fit in’ with her family’s culture.
This Christmas, girls as young as three years-old are at risk of being subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as their families make the trip during the extended school break. Over 5,700 British girls were subjected to this abuse just last year.
This form of abuse is most common in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, however it is happening both here in the UK as well as abroad. If a girl is British born, she is protected under our law, and FGM is illegal whether it’s conducted here or abroad.
Carried out as a cultural ‘rite of passage’, girls are subjected to intense physical and emotional pain as they fall victim to one of four types of FGM, all resulting in the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. Carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts, the health implications of FGM are both immediate and long-term, affecting sex, relationships, childbirth and mental wellbeing throughout a woman’s life. Sadly, families who support the practice of FGM don’t think of it as abuse so it’s up to us as frontline professionals to support and protect these young girls.
As the Christmas break approaches, it is vital that health, education and voluntary sector professionals are properly trained and extra vigilant. The Christmas holidays is a prime time for FGM to take place, as this allows more time for them to “heal” before they return to school. Teachers, doctors and nurses should listen out for certain terminology such as cutting, sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan, amongst others, or that young girls are being taken abroad for a ‘special party’.
If FGM is suspected, even if it’s not recently, all frontline professionals are legally obligated to report it to the police. There are now severe penalties for carrying out or facilitating FGM to be carried out, including taking a girl abroad for the procedure. In addition, if anyone (including teachers) is found guilty of failing to protect a girl from FGM, they can face up to seven years in prison.
In an education and societal system which promotes women’s rights, aims to blast the glass ceiling and help our young women excel in a plethora of career options including science and engineering, such deep-rooted inequality and discrimination has no place in the UK. If we unite as frontline professionals, the fight to end FGM is within our grasp!
If you suspect that FGM might take place, it is imperative that you follow the correct safeguarding and reporting procedures. The new statutory requirements for all professionals in relation to the reporting of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) introduced last October are available online here.
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