FGM is illegal in the UK. It is a practice that takes place worldwide in many African countries and in parts of the Middle and Far East. It also takes place within parts of Western Europe and other developed countries, primarily among immigrant and refugee communities. UK communities that are at risk of FGM include Somali, Kenyan, Ethiopian, Sierra Leonean, Sudanese, Egyptian, Nigerian, Eritrean, Yemeni, Kurdish and Indonesian women and girls.
FGM is illegal in the UK. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, civil and criminal legislation on FGM is contained in the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 (the act). In Scotland, FGM legislation is contained in the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 was amended by sections 70-75 of the Serious Crime Act 2015.
FGM is not an issue that can be decided on by personal preference – it is an illegal, extremely harmful practice and a form of child abuse and violence against women and girls. Appropriate course of action should be decided on a case by case basis, with the expert input from all agencies involved. Training can be accessed from your local LSCB.
One specific consideration when putting in place safeguarding measures against FGM is that the potential risk to a girl born in the UK can usually be identified at birth, because through the antenatal care and delivery of the child, NHS professionals can and should have identified that the mother has had FGM.
However FGM can be carried out at any age throughout childhood, meaning that identifying FGM at birth can mean that any safeguarding measures adopted may have to be in place for more than 15 years over the course of the girl’s childhood. This is a significantly different timescale and profile compared with many of the other forms of harm, against which the safeguarding framework provides protection. This difference in approach should be recognised when putting in place policies and procedures to protect against FGM.
Once concerns have been raised about FGM, there should also be a consideration of potential risk to other girls in the family and practising community. Professionals should be alert to the fact that any one of the girl children amongst these groups could be identified as being at risk of FGM and will need to be responded to as a ‘child in need’ or a ‘child in need of protection’.
Since 31 October 2015, regulated health and social care professionals and teachers in England and Wales have been legally required to report ‘known’ cases of FGM in under 18s, which they identify in the course of their professional work, to the police.