NHS releases newly collected FGM figures – NSPCC ‘shocked’

fgmThe NSPCC is our nominated charity for 2014 and we have long sought to raise awareness of the horrors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on this blog. So like the NSPCC we were shocked to hear the first NHS figures collected on the incidence of this barbaric practice, released yesterday.

John Cameron from the NSPCC said: “These are shocking figures and prove that FGM is very much a live public health issue. This NHS data shows just how vital it is that health professionals are trained to spot the signs of FGM so we can ensure that women and girls who are subjected to this brutal practice get the post-traumatic support they deserve.”

467 new cases of girls and women needing treatment after female genital mutilation in England were identified last month. Another 1,279 current cases were receiving treatment according to Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) figures.

We have always found it difficult to believe that although FGM has been illegal in Britain since 1985, no one has yet been convicted. More than half of the reported cases are in London, but all regions in England have seen cases reported.

The BBC reported Kingsley Manning, the chairman of the HSCIC, as saying: “Having accurate data about this crime is an important step in helping prevent its occurrence in the future.”

We know that up to 170,000 women and girls living in the UK may have undergone this procedure, and although earlier this year we reported that Prime Minister David Cameron had committed to ensuring  that any parents who allowed their daughters to go through the procedure would face prosecution, we have yet to hear of any cases coming to court.

To find out more about FGM and how to join the campaign against it, see the World Health Organisation site here

 

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FGM summit: British PM calls for end ‘in this generation’

_76432219_female_mutilation_20142207_464As you may know, here at the Terrace we are keen to highlight the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and campaign for the banning of the practice, to save so many girls and young women from lifelong pain and enduring health issues.

So we were pleased to hear that Prime Minister David Cameron, talking at a global summit hosted by the UK and by UNICEF, called for FGM (and childhood marriage) to be ended within a generation. Now we need to see real action.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, said:

“The fact that 30 million girls are at risk of being cut in the coming years clearly means that we have a big challenge on our hands….’ and  Priscilla Karim, who was forced to undergo FGM in Sierra Leone at the age of just 9, told the BBC of her ordeal:

“I felt the worst pain of my life and a heavy object sitting on my chest and I just passed out…..It’s like a taboo, they don’t tell you about it. You cannot tell anybody.”

The BBC News website reporting on the summit offers some vital facts and highlights the many issues facing young women at risk in the coming years if FGM continues. This is despite growing global calls for the eradication of the procedure and the news that, in Britain at least,  failure to report FGM (FGM  has been illegal here for a number of years) will in itself become a criminal offence. Do take a look and join us in calling for this child abuse (for that is what it is) to stop.

 

 

Female Genital Mutilation – a cross party report states it remains an ‘ongoing national scandal’

female-genital-mutilation-1A report on female genital mutilation has been published by MPs today (3rd July), and it makes uncomfortable reading for those of us committed to the campaign to end the practice.

We have written on FGM twice before on this blog here and here and are saddened to hear that the report of the cross-party Commons home affairs committee states clearly that it continues to be an ‘ongoing national scandal’.

The committee heard from victims, health and social workers, police and lawyers. Whilst not going so far as to endorse mandatory gynaecological checks it did say that a case could be made for the adoption of the French model – regular checks for at-risk young women and children.

It is shocking that around 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of female genital mutilation in the UK. Every one of them is let down by our society if we fail to deal with this matter properly.
Keith Vaz, the Labour MP chairing the committee said:

“Successive governments, politicians, the police, health, education and social care sectors should all share responsibility for the failure in recent years to respond adequately to the growing prevalence of FGM in the UK.”

The BBC, reporting on the issue on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning, spoke to Dr Comfort Momoh, a public health specialist at St Thomas’s Hospital, in London, who said there was a “lack of training” and a “lack of awareness” around the issue among health professionals.

She said: “If our so-called professionals don’t have the knowledge, if our so-called professionals don’t know how to identify groups who might be at risk, how do we expect the community to report cases to us?”
Although the Department for Education has taken steps to draw this matter to the attention of all schools, the committee feels they can still do more and there must surely be a case for training for teachers over and above standard safeguarding procedures.

The Guardian newspaper reports today that campaigners, whilst welcoming the report, are frustrated that it has not gone further, making a failure to report FGM a crime to ensure any professionals, currently reluctant to become involved in cases of FGM, take steps to protect any girl they feel may be vulnerable. The report only recommends the criminalisation of a failure to report ‘if reporting of the practice does not increase in the next 12 months’. They have also called for more detailed guidelines for professionals and funding for grass roots action.

Clearly there is a lot of support for action, but there should surely be no further delay in implementing these changes?

 

FGM follow up – DPP calls for mandatory reporting of cases.

DPP Alison Saunders

DPP Alison Saunders

Our last post was a call for greater awareness of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and our horror at the way the practise of cutting young girls can continue in communities in Britain seemingly without fear of prosecution.

To write on the subject last week was good timing. Over the weekend reports and comment in the national press indicated that the challenge of eradicating FGM is gaining support and prosecutions will become more common. However, it is still far from easy to see how this will come about.

The director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has criticised medical staff for the poor number of referrals. Only 11 cases of female genital mutilation have been referred for prosecution by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service in the last three years, even though at least 144 complaints were made to police. The first prosecution for female genital mutilation was announced two weeks ago. It is 29 years after it became illegal in England and Wales.

The DPP was appearing before the House of Commons home affairs select committee, the Chairman of which, Keith Vaz said they had taken evidence that as many as 66,000 women in England and Wales had been subjected to FGM. “Eleven referrals sounds a very small figure,” he said.

The DPP claims it is lack of evidence that prevents prosecutions proceeding, rather than loopholes in the legislation. That is why she wants reporting by health staff to become compulsory, but she would not go so far as to say compulsory examination of girls, such as that required in France, should become part of British law.

We appreciate that this is a legal issue that is fraught with difficulties, but it is too important to be lost in a mire of discussion. Even the announcement of a prosecution has met with concern, as the case is not straightforward, involving as it does a repair rather than the actual act of FGM.

What do you think? Are we guilty of talking too much and doing too little? How should medical staff approach this? Are you in favour of compulsory examination of girls? After all it has almost eradicated FGM in France.

We would love to know your views. This is a subject we will come back to and a campaign we are committed to supporting.

 

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): It is, simply, child abuse.

Female-circumcision-006On the 14th March The Guardian reported that for the first time a doctor will stand trial in Egypt on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM).  13-year-old Sohair al-Bata’a died following an alleged operation in his clinic last year. FGM has been banned in Egypt since 2008 but may doctors still carry out the operation on a private basis, as parents see it as an acceptable ‘rite of passage’ for their daughters.

How much do you know about FGM?  The work of charities and the government is raising awareness, but it is still a practice that remains safely hidden in many local communities. Female genital mutilation  is actually  a form of child abuse which damages girls and women, both physically and mentally by using a procedure  which The World Health Organization (WHO) describes as one that involves ‘ partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons’ (WHO, 2013). Communities practising FGM cite  reasons for its use such as social acceptance, family honour, marriageability or even the mistaken belief that it makes childbirth easier.  However, even a brief reading of the research undertaken on the subject tells of the short term  risk of shock, bleeding, infections and damage to nearby organs; as well as the possibility of death. Longer term effects  include very painful sex, abscesses, complications in pregnancy and, contrary to cultural belief, a greater risk of childbirth dangerous to mother and child. Psychological damage is common; in one study 80% of women  who had undergone and FGM procedure suffered from depression or anxiety disorders.

In Britain it is a criminal offence under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act to ‘perform FGM or to assist a girl to perform FGM on herself’. It can incur a maximum prison term of fourteen years, but prosecution seems low in comparison to the potential numbers of girls and women involved.  Most families do not see FGM as abuse and might accuse anyone intervening of being discriminatory. We must not shirk our responsibilities towards these girls.

We support the charity NSPCC both locally in the South West and nationally, in its campaign to stop this barbaric practice. The technique is  ‘traditionally carried out by a female with no medical training, without anaesthetics or antiseptic treatments, using knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades’ (NHS Choices 2013). The girl is sometimes forcibly restrained, held down even by a parent. FGM is usually carried out on girls between infancy and age 15, but the majority of cases occur between the ages of 5 and 8 years. Can you imagine the distress that must cause? Research has identified that tens of thousands of women in Britain live with the debilitating consequences of FGM and more than 20,000 young girls may be at risk. The crime is hidden, so figures are hard to establish, but these numbers may very well be much higher.

Communities in more than 28 African countries practise FGM, along with countries in the Middle East and Asia. The NHS has found that particular cities in the UK have more incidences of FGM, including London, Cardiff, Manchester, Sheffield, Northampton, Birmingham, and Oxford. But nowhere is immune.

The NSPCC has established a free 24-hour FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 or its email at  fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk should you or someone you know be concerned that a child be at risk of FGM. After seven months the helpline had already received more than 150 calls.

forwardIf you would like to know more about FGM, go to the World Health Organisation website for full details,  or take a look at the wonderful Forward ( Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) site. It makes horrifying reading. It is too late for Sohair al-Bata’a, but not for the thousands of girls at risk in this country. Whether we are parents or not we owe it to them to ensure this abuse is ended.