Warning to teachers about signs a girl may be at risk of undergoing FGM

Teachers are being advised of the signs a girl may be at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) as ‘cutting season’ approaches.

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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.

The National FGM Centre says any teacher who suspects a pupil 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.

The National FGM Centre, run by Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, trains professionals to spot the signs which may suggest girls have had FGM.

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or sitting down comfortably, taking a long time in the toilet, or a significant change in behaviour such as becoming withdrawn.

This is as figures published this week show that we still have a long way to go before new cases are stopped.

There were 1,030 newly recorded cases of female genital mutilation in England between January and March 2018, according to figures published on Thursday (June 7) by NHS Digital.

This is compared to 1,045 newly recorded cases for the last quarter of 2017.

In all, for the first quarter of this year, there were 1,745 women and girls reported at NHS trusts and GP practices where FGM was identified or a procedure related to FGM was undertaken.

Of these 1,745, the FGM took place before the girl had reached her 10th birthday in 77% of the cases, and before she was 18 in 87% of cases.

And 3% of the cases happened here in the UK.

Head of the National FGM Centre Leethen Bartholomew 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.”