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Female genital mutilation (FGM) – Know the signs

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 up to 42 countries, including Pakistan, Russia, Thailand and Malaysia.

There is no justifiable reason 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.

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. 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. Be aware of the signs of FGM and always report any concerns by following the normal safeguarding procedures or contacting the police if a girl is in immediate danger.

Some of the signs that a girl might be at risk of FGM include:

  • 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  • Significant changes in behaviour, such as becoming withdrawn

For more information about FGM and how you can take action, why not take our Introduction to Adult/Child Protection and Further Adult/Child Protection online safeguarding courses?