“FGM is child abuse and we don’t tolerate it here in the UK"
Young ethnic girls could be more at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) during the British summer holidays say Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association.
A new study by the children’s charity warns ethnic communities of the danger of FGM in rural parts of the UK, where little understanding of the procedure exists.
FGM or female genital mutilation refers to the circumcision of girls, where they are deliberately ‘cut’. According to WHO:
“Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
WHO lists four major types of FGM: clitoridectomy, excision, infibulation, and finally other harmful procedures like pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising the genital area.
FGM is a deep-rooted cultural practice common in certain ethnic populations across the world.
200 million girls and women have been affected by it, including communities in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America.
The procedure is extremely harmful to girls and women. As well as the physical pain of FGM, according to the NHS it can create long term problems with sex, childbirth and mental health.
FGM in the UK
FGM is alarmingly prevalent across the globe even today. The first ever annual statistics for FGM saw a shocking 5,700 newly recorded cases between 2015 and 2016 alone. FGM was most common among 5 to 9 year olds.
In 18 cases found by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) report, FGM had actually taken place in the UK, despite it being illegal.
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said:
“Shockingly, today’s figures confirm that women and girls born in the UK have undergone FGM, despite the practice being illegal for over 30 years. Yet there still hasn’t been a single successful prosecution to hold perpetrators to account.
“FGM is child abuse and it’s vital that we work with affected communities to change hearts and minds about the practice. Agencies must work better together to prosecute those who fail to protect girls from this type of abuse.”
Barnardo’s March 2016 study, ‘Between Two Cultures’ found that the UK was also at risk of FGM by migrant populations, ‘due to the cultural and traditional norms that influence the continuation of the practice’.
Aside from many African communities in the UK, the study cites Pakistani women and girls as key victims of FGM.
Understanding FGM Prevalent Communities
Barnardo’s, in association with the Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development (FORWARD), interviewed individuals in Norfolk and Essex.
During their interview process, Barnardo’s and FORWARD found a number of reasons as to why FGM was practiced in the UK.
Many of those interviewed believed that close cultural communities arriving into the UK were less likely to integrate with western lifestyle. Cultural or religious differences were too great, with some even finding that they face discrimination and language barriers.
Others mentioned a fear of girls adopting western habits of independence, particularly among more conservative families. With women experiencing more freedom, men were often left feeling ‘emasculated’. There was an added worry of the sexualisation of children (especially girls) from a young age.
One of the most interesting findings from interviewees was that many believed that while the UK was successful in preventing the widespread of FGM practices, it actually faced higher risk of female genital mutilation because western society threatened the conservative cultural traditions of migrant communities.
Those women who had undergone FGM also mentioned that there was a lack of psychological and physical support for victims. Many women felt unable to seek out help either because of shame or because they were unaware of services. One woman from Nigeria told the charity:
“The community are not sure where to access specialist services from. Some girls and women are reluctant to go to their GP as they believe the GP would not understand their problems and would feel uncomfortable with the probing questions.”
How to prevent FGM in the UK
The study warns professionals to be more vigilant of at risk female students, particularly those residing in rural parts of England, or in communities where English is not a first language.
Such isolated communities across rural areas of England are unaware that taking girls abroad to undergo female genital mutilation is illegal, and many families are also unaware of the negative consequences of this horrific procedure.
Celia Jeffreys, Barnardo’s Head of the National FGM Centre, said:
“There are virtually no specialist FGM services or prevention programmes outside of urban city centres. This makes it much harder to change attitudes and work with affected communities to protect girls at risk.
“FGM is child abuse and we don’t tolerate it here in the UK. Everyone working with children should be extra vigilant in looking out for girls who might be at risk, but we need to get better at holding the responsible family members to account through successful prosecutions.
The charity discovered that little support was available for ethnic communities. In particular, non-African FGM practicing communities i.e. Pakistanis and other South Asians, which are often overlooked by prevention programmes:
“It’s vital communities come together to share their knowledge and for local authorities to consider the need for specialist programmes in rural areas and where language is a barrier, as much as they do in towns and cities,” Jeffreys added.
Both Barnardo’s and FORWARD warn of the dangers of female genital mutilation among isolated migrant populations dotted across the UK.
The summer holiday period in the UK is also likely to see more cases of FGM take place as parents take their children back to their homelands.
The charities call for more to be done to educate and advise migrant communities of the physical and psychological risks that young girls in their care face.
You can read the full report here: Between Two Cultures 20016.
If you or someone you know has been affected by FGM, please seek medical help immediately.
You can find a complete list of specialist FGM Centres from the NHS here.