FORWARD – UK Holiday Warning: Urgent Action needed to Protect Girls at risk of Female Genital Mutilation

On 19 JULY 2011 FORWARD (UK) issued the following press release which I pass on to you for its three themes: 1) the government is taking FGM seriously; 2) the holiday season is particularly dangerous for girls at risk; and 3) even more should be done.

“The recent debate in the House of Lords on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in response to a question by Baroness Rendell of Babergh is very timely. The Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development (FORWARD) (1) welcomes this new focus on FGM and calls on the UK Government and Local Authorities to take urgent action to safeguard all girls at risk of FGM.

Baroness Verma, the Lords Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office for Women and Equalities in her response stated that “our key focus is prevention and we have undertaken considerable work in the past year across and between nine government departments to advance efforts to prevent and tackle FGM in the UK and around the world”.

FGM is illegal in the UK and under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, only UK citizens and permanent residents are protected. There have not been any prosecutions under the Act although over 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are deemed at high risk of undergoing the most severe form of FGM. (2) As the summer holiday’s approaches girls are at high risk of being taken abroad for FGM. Sadly for many girls existing safeguarding systems will not be able to protect them because statutory guidance on FGM is inadequate and not effectively enforced.

Naana Otoo-Oyortey, MBE, Executive Director of FORWARD points out that “Tackling FGM requires a more holistic approach from the UK Government and Local Authorities, who have a duty to safeguard all children from significant harm and demonstrate commitment and evidence to ending this form of child abuse and grave human rights violation. FORWARD has had a surge in calls from teachers and professionals over the summer worried about girls in their care and asking for help in responding to this issue. This is clear evidence that awareness of FGM and safeguarding procedures among professionals is still lacking”.

FORWARD supports the Parliamentary Education Committee’s Call for Evidence: New Inquiry: The Child Protection System in England which was announced on 14 July 2011. FORWARD is calling on the UK government and Local Authorities to adopt a more comprehensive and long term approach to tackling FGM that safeguards all children at risk of FGM; engages key communities to end this practice and provides sustainable services to those living with FGM.”

END
Notes to the editor:
(1) FORWARD (Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) is an African Diaspora led charity working to safeguard and advance the health and rights of African girls and women in the UK and in Africa. We tackle female genital mutilation, child marriage and related health issues.
For more information http://www.forwarduk.org.uk or call 0208 960 4000

(2) Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons (World Health Organisation 2008).

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One response to “FORWARD – UK Holiday Warning: Urgent Action needed to Protect Girls at risk of Female Genital Mutilation

  1. I’m sorry that Naana Otoo-Oyortey thinks the UK lacks a holistic approach to tackling FGM. I am sorry, too, that professionals, worried about young girls in their care, have not known where to turn for advice during the recent summer break.

    There is a 56-page handbook: Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines, that is pretty comprehensive. It explains, among other things, who is at risk from FGM, why the practice persists, and also provides advice on relevant legislation in England & Wales on FGM, and how to gain access to the law.
    On the website, readers of the leaflet are invited to post their own suggestions for amendments or additions.

    There are also links to organisations in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    It is accessible as a pdf document via the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website: http://www.fco.gov.uk/fgm Scroll down the home page and you will find a link to the booklet at the bottom right-hand corner.

    I suspect that thes guidelines have not had the wide distribution they both deserve and need. There should be a copy on prominent display in every school staffroom and GP surgery, as well as in Citizens Advice Bureaux, colleages and libraries in those conurbations where girls and women are at risk: the booklet identifies 11 towns and cities.

    There are many initiatives to promote the education of diaspora communities in the UK regarding FGM, but I believe we need to ensure that everyone coming into contact with girls is fully apprised of their own responsibility to protect those girls from lifelong physical and psychological harm. They should also feel confident in reporting their suspicions to the Police, in the knowledge that law-enforcement agencies would handle such cases with sensitivity and firmness.

    NB: The Home Office ( http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk ) also provides info, but the above leaflet is a ‘one-stop shop’.

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