Raising FGM awareness

Des Mannion
Tuesday, August 16, 2016

With thousands of families expected to jet off on holiday from airports across the UK this summer, many will not realise the serious form of child abuse threatening young girls due to travel abroad.

It comes as the summer holidays are recognised as the most common time of year for children to be taken out of the country for female genital mutilation (FGM) to be carried out.

In a bid to tackle this, and prevent children from being subjected to this horrific form of abuse, a concerted effort is being made in Wales to focus on holidaymakers and raise awareness of the dangers of FGM.

Parents often take advantage of the six week holidays because the child's absence from school won't be spotted and they believe this gives them time to recover - but they fail to actually understand the long lasting physical and psychological effects of this illegal procedure.

In an awareness campaign, holidaymakers are being urged to look out for any warning signs that FGM is taking place and report it to the relevant authorities.

Cardiff Airport, supported by the national multi-agency Wales FGM Strategic Leadership Group, has been targeting travelling passengers with information to raise awareness about FGM. An information stall was held at the airport at the start of the summer holidays in a bid to show the harmful effects of FGM and urge anyone who has concerns about children who were at risk of FGM to come forward.

FGM, which involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons, is a form of child abuse and was made a criminal offence in the UK more than 30 years ago.

The effects, both in the long term and short term, of children who have suffered FGM can be catastrophic. Not only can it cause severe pain, infection and organ damage in the short term, it can also lead to infertility, incontinence, menstrual problems and pain while having sex in the long term. This is notwithstanding the horrendous emotional and mental health problems that it can also trigger.

As John Cameron, the head of Childline, recently pointed out, it is a ‘harrowing ordeal, and there is ‘no excuse, for it to be carried out.

Since 2003 it has been a criminal offence for anyone from the UK to take a child abroad for FGM - with a maximum jail term of 14 years. But this hasn't stopped the problem and young girls are still being subjected to this form of horrific child abuse.

The Welsh Government is working hard to gather better data to get a clearer picture of prevalence in Wales, but it has been estimated that 132,000 women and girls are living with FGM in England and Wales. The reality is that girls across the UK are still at risk of FGM as people are often afraid or unwilling to come forward and report it.

NSPCC Cymru recently worked with the Welsh Government and BAWSO - a provider of specialist services for BME communities - on the Voices over Silence project in which they produced a leaflet and a film to help ‘spark a conversation, on FGM in communities across Wales. The materials are also being rolled out as part of lessons on FGM in schools across Wales to allow pupils to discuss the problem openly.

Mandatory reporting for regulated health and social care professionals and teachers in England and Wales to report known cases of FGM in under 18-year-olds to the police was brought into law in October 2015 and from July 2015 anyone who is concerned that a child is at risk of FGM can apply for an FGM Protection Order.

But despite all this legislation, as well as a declaration to end FGM in February 2014, it is still a widely under reported issue with no prosecutions to date in England and Wales.

That's why every effort should be made to raise awareness, whether that's handing out flyers at airports or raising concerns with authorities.

Des Mannion is head of service at NSPCC Wales

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