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Marking the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM

Release Date: 06 Feb 2017

On the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, Monday 6 February 2017, the National FGM Centre's director Michelle Lee-Izu talks about our work to try and end the practice.

No girl should ever have to live with the harmful physical and emotional consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM).

But we know it is still happening to girls living in the UK and we have a long way to go before it will be eradicated.

This is despite it being illegal here since 1985 and it is also illegal for a girl to be taken abroad to have the practice carried out.

Girls who undergo the harmful procedure are left with physical and emotional scars, which many will have to deal with for the rest of their lives.

Gradually countries where FGM traditionally took place for centuries – like parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia – are turning their backs on it. Barnardo’s aims to prevent girls being subjected to this abusive practice.

We run the National FGM Centre, in partnership with the Local Government Association, and we are working hard to try and prevent the practice, by using all the legislative and practical tools we can.

Our vision is to end new cases of FGM for girls and women living in England within the next 15 years. We aim to do this through changing the way children’s services are provided to girls and through education and training.

Girls can be at risk of FGM at a number of different times, and in different places, during their childhood.

We help families to develop extended safeguarding strategies for their daughters that can remain in place until they are 18 and beyond.

In the past year 155 families were referred to us at the National FGM Centre and we trained more than 900 professionals how to spot the risks of FGM and what everyone’s statutory responsibilities are.

Specially trained social workers from the Centre, and based in children’s services, provide advice and guidance to professionals, carry out risk assessments and direct work with girls and women, and, if necessary, take legal action to protect girls at imminent risk of FGM.  

Since October 31, 2015, it has been mandatory for health, social care workers and teachers in England and Wales to report known cases of FGM for under 18-year-olds to the police.

Sadly many professionals, including senior managers, do not have the awareness, knowledge and understanding of the issue, and many social workers still report a lack of confidence in dealing with this safeguarding issue.

At the National FGM Centre a part of our work is training professionals so they can spot the signs when a girl may be at risk of becoming a victim of FGM.

These can come from clues from the child herself, for example if she begins to tell her friends about FGM, or confides she is to have a ‘special procedure’, or attend a special occasion to ‘become a woman’.

The girl may also talk about looking forward to a long holiday to her country of origin, or another country where the practice is prevalent. She may approach a teacher or another adult if she’s aware or suspects she’s at immediate risk.

Parents who want their daughter to have FGM may unwittingly give clues, like saying they’re taking the child out of the country for a prolonged period of time.

This could involve asking for permission to take their daughter out of school during term time or to mentioning they are going to a country with a high prevalence of FGM, especially during holiday periods known as the ‘cutting season’.

We also teach about signs which may suggest girls have had FGM done. These include difficulty sitting down comfortably, or a significant change in behaviour.

Feedback for the courses has been excellent with comments from attendees including “I now feel confident in recognising signs and potential hazards,” and “excellent training, easy to follow and really enjoyable and insightful”.

The National FGM Centre was opened in March 2015, thanks to a two year grant from the Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Fund. So that the Centre can continue its valued work, we are now looking for further funding.

It is vital that more families are supported and more professionals are trained if we are to continue to protect girls at risk in the future and support those living with FGM today.

Visit the National FGM Centre website to find out more about its work.

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