Female genital mutilation is a form of child abuse common to some African, Asian and Middle Eastern communities in the UK. This illegal and life-threatening initiation ritual can leave young victims in agony and with physical and psychological problems that can continue into adulthood.
Carried out in secret and often without anaesthetic it involves the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs. Victims are usually aged between four and ten, but some are babies.
A recent survey by the NSPCC found that four out of five (83%) teachers had not covered female genital mutilation in their child protection training. And nearly six in ten (59%) said they were not confident about their role and responsibility in protecting children from FGM. Only 7% described themselves as very confident about this.
One teacher who was questioned for the survey said: “This issue is something that I have neither heard of, or had training around. I feel uncomfortable that I do not know enough about this to help protect the children I teach.”
Another said “I suppose I really only thought it was a practice which occurred in other countries. It hadn't occurred to me that it could happen to a child in this country in my school.”
Lisa Harker, NSPCC head of strategy, said: “Teachers are vitally important in helping to protect children from female genital mutilation. Their unique position means they may be the only professionals these children come into contact with.
“We will support teachers and others working in schools to carry out their duty to protect children from all forms of abuse. We hope the advice and support they get from this helpline will give them the confidence to take action on what is an incredibly difficult child protection issue.
“The UK’s child victims of female genital mutilation are hidden behind a wall of silence. Like other forms of abuse if female genital mutilation is not exposed it will continue to thrive and more children will suffer.
“Children who are at risk or victims of female genital mutilation often don’t even know it is abusive and harmful because it is done at the request of their family. They are told they are unclean and immoral if they are not ‘cut’ and that it is in their best interest.
“There is also a huge pressure within these communities to keep quiet about female genital mutilation, with some people even being threatened with violence if they speak out.
“This is why we believe a dedicated helpline with specially trained child protection advisors is needed to help overcome the difficulties in protecting children from such a complex and secretive form of abuse.”
The free 24-hour helpline on 0800 028 3550 at firstname.lastname@example.org is for anyone concerned that a child’s welfare is at risk because of female genital mutilation and are seeking advice, information or support. Though callers’ details can remain anonymous, any information that could protect a child from abuse will be passed to the police or social services.