From community to community: the fight against FGM in the UK

From community to community: the fight against FGM in the UK

October has been a month of discussions around Female Genital Mutilation after new statistics released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre highlighted the numbers of FGM reported cases in the UK. In fact, it has been researched that over 4,989 cases have been reported in England since last September 2014, 1,026 cases happened between April and June 2015 only.

Although these new statistics don’t necessarily mean an increase in the number of FGM cases, they highlighted the extent of the problem in the UK and urge for immediate action to tackle the issue.

Throughout October, articles in the media featured statements from health care professionals, teachers, community leaders, NGO representatives as well as celebrities who called for a multi-agency approach to effectively and successfully tackle FGM.

In line with these points seems to be the newly announced Government’s mandatory reporting duty on FGM. According to the new law, which came into force on the 31st of October, “health and social care professionals and teachers in England and Wales now have a mandatory requirement to report visually confirmed or verbally disclosed cases of FGM in girls under 18 to the police”. According to the Home Office, visually confirmed cases applies when the professional observes “signs on a girl appearing to show that an act of FGM has been carried out” and with the clause that there was no reason that the act was part of a surgical operation. At the same time, verbally disclosed cases refer when a girl personally informs the relevant professional she has undergone FGM.

This specific duty was introduced through the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and subsequently amended by the Serious Crime Act 2015 as a result of a long consultation work by the Home Office with professional bodies and the police. Furthermore, it is essential to highlight that the duty does not apply neither on ‘suspected’ cases nor on women aged over 18.

JAN Trust has long standing experience in tackling FGM by supporting victims and raising awareness on the issue across communities in London and the UK. Therefore we welcome this new duty that, handled with the already existing safeguarding responsibilities, represents a big step forward in the fight against FGM and in the protection of girls and women from this harmful practice.

However, from our experience, we know that the process to eradicate FGM is longer and involves an in depth understanding of cultures, traditions and societies where the practice happens to be deeply rooted. Our ethos is, and has always been, that awareness raising and education across communities will have a strong impact and will progressively reduce the practice within the most affected communities. Moreover, recent surveys show how almost one in five teachers lack the basic understanding of the new duty to report girls at risk of FGM with the consequences of undertaking the wrong actions that, instead of being helpful, will contribute to damage further the potential victims. The same survey shows that the major causes rely on the lack of training and proper information.

JAN Trust’s ‘Against FGM’ campaign offers an inclusive approach which, through our workshops addressed to students, practitioners, statutory agencies and community groups, aims to provide a broad understanding of the issue and the law surrounding FGM in order to help the whole community to overcome this practice and, above all, protect the victims.

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