Could you help a girl at risk of female genital mutilation?

Barnardo’s children’s charity has released a statement advising professionals to pay particular attention to the signs and indicators that a girl may be at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) as the so-called ‘cutting season’ approaches.

Female genital mutilation (commonly referred to as FGM) is a form of child abuse that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. The practice is common in many cultures, with the largest number of reported cases occurring in African countries such as Egypt, Somalia and Sierra Leone, however, FGM has also been reported in countries including Pakistan, Russia, Thailand and Malaysia.

There is no single justification for FGM, but many communities who carry out the practice believe it is necessary to ensure that a girl will be eligible for marriage. Other common reasons include the belief that it will preserve a girl’s virginity, protection of family honour and perceived health benefits.

In the United Kingdom, it is a crime to commit female genital mutilation, and measures are in place to prevent families from sending their daughters abroad for the procedure. Female genital mutilation can have many health implications. Not least, the experience is extremely painful and highly traumatic for the girls involved, but other known implications include death, broken limbs from being held down, infertility and increased risk of HIV and AIDS.

Despite this, many families still send their daughters abroad every year, using the summer holidays as the beginning of the so-called ‘cutting season’ wherein the procedure is carried out. Barnardo’s want professionals to make themselves aware of the signs that a girl may be at risk of FGM, and to report any concerns by following the normal safeguarding procedures.

Among the signs that a girl is at risk of FGM are the following:

  • Telling friends about FGM
  • Confiding that she is going to have a ‘special procedure’ or is attending a special occasion to ‘become a woman’
  • Talking about an upcoming long holiday to a country where the practice is prevalent
  • Approaching a teacher to discuss her concerns if she is aware of, or suspects she is at immediate risk

It is important to also report any concerns you may have that a girl has already fallen victim to FGM. Some signs and indicators to suggest a girl has been through a female genital mutilation procedure include the following:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Looking uncomfortable while sitting down
  • Taking a long time in the toilet
  • Significant changes in behaviour, such as becoming withdrawn

Shocking figures released by the NHS show that there were 1,236 new cases of female genital mutilation recorded in England between January and March 2017. Of the recorded cases, 84% of procedures had been carried out before the girl reached her 10th birthday, and 17% had taken place before she had reached the age of 1.