Words by Vivien Cohen
Female genital mutilation should be condemned as child abuse, a recent report published by the Royal College of Midwives has stated.
‘Tackling Female Genital Mutilation in the UK’, marks a collaboration between various Royal Colleges and health professionals, and has been widely praised by the government since its publication on the first of November.
The document makes clear that the government is unacceptably failing the thousands of girls at risk in the UK each year, and re-enforces the importance of integrating FGM into the child protection system.
“The report […] reminds all frontline staff working with women and children that they are in the position of being able to prevent FGM,” said Leyla Hussein, FGM campaigner and childhood survivor of this brutal practice.
Nine intercollegiate recommendations for tackling FGM are included in the report, amongst which the documentation and collection of information, the systematic sharing of such information and the empowerment of frontline professionals are cited.
It is made clear that there have been various barriers preventing the adequate protection of at risk girls in the UK, including a lack of awareness or education on the part of frontline services, as well as insufficient interdepartmental communication.
Cultural issues have also played a huge part when it has come to identifying and preventing FGM, with the report stating that a fear of offending or stigmatising members of minority communities has led to the lack of an appropriate response to the problem.
As a result of this perceived need for cultural sensitivity to be paramount, more and more girls are being failed by the system each year.
Shaista Gohir, the chairwoman of the Muslim Women’s Network, agreed with this sentiment, explaining in a recent Guardian article that;
“We need to be mindful of cultural and religious sensibilities but safeguarding the child from FGM has to be the priority. If a child is at risk it is better to protect them rather than religious and cultural feelings.”
While the report outlines many of the failings of a system which should be protecting at risk girls, it also very positively highlights what changes need to be made in order for total protection from and eradication of FGM to become a reality.
Despite the fact that FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, there are still over 23,000 girls under the age of fifteen who are thought to be at risk annually, and there has never been a single prosecution for carrying it out.
Keir Starmer QC, former Director of Public Prosecutions, has stated that;
“This important publication sets out recommendations aimed at those professionals who are key to bringing about the changes needed in the UK to help eradicate FGM.”
It is hoped that, if the government takes on the recommendations that are outlined in ‘Tackling Female Genital Mutilation in the UK’, a criminal prosecution for subjecting a child to this abuse will be the next step.
If the relevant departments can commit to following the advice laid out in reports such as these then there is a very real chance that the dream of seeing an end to FGM in the UK can become a reality.