1) What is FGM?
FGM is a deliberate act of cutting or total removal of the female genitalia often seen as a cultural practice within some communities. FGM has no health benefits and often damages health tissues which can cause further implications for many young girls later on.
2) What are the types of FGM?
Type 1: Clitoridectom- Partial or total removal of the clitorises.
Type 2: Excision – Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora.
Type 3: Infibulation – The narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal.
Type 4: Any other procedures to the genitalia for non-medical purposes, example: piercing, scraping and pricking. These procedures are often not consented to when performed on young girls.
3) In your view, what are the reasons behind this practice?
Control. I think the reason for such practices is to do with controlling certain individuals within a community. It has to be acknowledging that the groups that practice this often say it is for the benefit of the young girls. They practice FGM to stop them from participating with any sexual activity until they are married. Reality of this is that, it causes more harm than good. Girls are often scared and fearful of having sex even when married due to the pain they experience as a result of the procedure. FGM is a violation of people’s rights, young girls who are targeted are vulnerable and cannot advocate for themselves. The decision to undergo this procedure is often made by traditionalists who play key roles within the communities. These traditionalist hold a lot of status and power within these communities and are often supported by family members of the victims. If everyone in your community believe this is the culture including the people you love and trust what can you do? , who do you go to for help? FGM is a reflection of “deep rooted” traditional “inequality” between males and females.
4) What do statistics tell us about FGM practices within the UK alone?
According to the NSPCC, “there are an estimated 137,000 women and girls with FGM in England and Wales”. Daily mail reported in June 2016 that nearly 200 cases of FGM are being reported every week in England with “More than 1,200 patients were treated between January and March – the equivalent of almost 14 women a day”. The statistics above are all reported cases, these numbers are likely to be higher as some cases go un-reported due to the consequences and stigmas face from these communities. FGM is growing problem in the UK because people who migrate to the country do not leave this “cultural” practice behind.
5) What are the physical and psychological impact on victims of FGM?
The physical and psychological impact of FGM on young girls can be traumatic.
In terms of physical impact, you are looking at:
- Complication during pregnancy
- Constant bleeding
- Pain during intercourse
- Problems with passing urine or incontinence.
Psychological impact includes mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, self-harming, flashback from the incident and nightmares.
FGM has serious consequences. Are these communities aware of such consequences and impact of the procedures on young girls? Possibly not.
6) What does legislation say about FGM practice? (sentencing and prosecution)
Within the UK the Children Act 1989 will classify FGM as causing significant harm to a child, this therefore places a duty on local authorities (social care) to take immediate action in protecting the child. FGM is child abuse and also an infringement of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Practising FGM in the UK is a criminal offence. The FGM Act 2003 states that the maximum penalty for FGM to 14 years’ imprisonment. This legislation makes it a criminal offence for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to: perform FGM overseas or take a UK national or permanent UK resident overseas to have FGM. This law also applies to individuals who may not be directly performing the procedure but assist with this procedure.
7) What active steps are being taken in the UK to assist with eliminating these practices?
Professionals (schools, health, social care, police and other organisations working with children and families) are being trained to identify sign and symptoms of FGM.
Recognised organisations (forwarduk.org.uk, woemnssupport.co.uk, NSPCC, Daughter of Eve ) have and still are undertaking further research about FGM to help raise better awareness about the practice which in turn will assist with providing better support for communities.
Specialist services have been created specifically to address the issue of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation Initiative, Trust for London – Female Genital mutilation)
Legislations have been amended in the UK to support criminalising FGM .
8) At what age does this practice take place and what sign should we look out for?
Age range varies. Some girls undergo this produce when they are born. Others experience this at primary school (very common) age right through until secondary school, college or even just before they get married. Young children who are unable to advocate for themselves might suddenly start behaving differently, they may appear anxious, withdrawn , bed wetting, missing school, sending longer than usual in the bathroom, difficulty in standing, sitting or walking.
Before a procedure young girls may talk about a special occasion to “become a woman”. Visiting family back home or an older female relative visiting the UK. Subsequently, we have to be careful and not make the assumption that if a child is visiting family back home or having a relative visiting them in the UK means they will be undergoing FGM. Many ethnic communities often travel back home for long periods of time for occasions (funerals, weddings, traditional occasions etc) for this reason, it becomes very difficult to know if a child may be undergoing the procedure or not. If you are not sure about what is really going, it is adviced that you contact your local authority (social service) for advice without delay.
9) If we suspect that child might be subject to this practice what can we do?
You can contact your local safeguarding team (social services). If you think a young girl is at immediate risk then you have to call the police on 999.
10) Tell me about support available for children and people who have already experienced this practice.
There are a lot of organisations who offer support and help for victims of FGM. These organisations offer practical support as well as support groups and counselling for victims of FGM.
Links below give further details about support available:
- http://www.dofeve.org/resources-and-links.html – Daughters of Eve
- http://www.mayacentre.org.uk – Dahlia Project – counselling and support Groups.
- Your local GP
- NHS Specialist clinics for FGM.
Pamela Nkansah, Social Worker