Today, Tuesday 06 February, is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation – a lengthy title, but what does it mean? We spoke to Jon Brown, Head of Impact at the NSPCC, to get a bit more information…
So, what exactly is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female genital mutilation (or FGM) is the partial or total removal of external female genitalia. There are no medical reasons to carry out FGM, because it doesn’t enhance fertility or make childbirth safer. It is used to control female sexuality and can cause severe and long-lasting damage to physical and mental health.
Very often religious, social or cultural reasons are given for FGM but it is dangerous, against the law and if the individual is under 18, a form of child abuse.
Who does it happen to, and where does it happen?
Girls and women living in communities that practise FGM are most at risk. However, the age at which FGM is carried out varies. It may be carried out when a girl is new-born, during childhood or adolescence, just before marriage or during pregnancy.
World Health Organisation data on FGM is only collected in 27 countries in Africa and also in Yemen, but we know FGM is practiced in up to 42 African countries in the Middle East and in Asia.
FGM can happen in the UK or abroad. In the UK, the Home Office has identified girls from the Somali, Kenyan, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Sierra Leonean, Egyptian, Nigerian, Eritrean, Yemeni, Kurdish and Indonesian communities at most risk of FGM.
Girls are also at risk if FGM has been carried out on their mother, sister or a member of their extended family.
It sounds like something that would be easy to hide… how do you normally find out that it has happened?
We hear from a number of people via our dedicated FGM Helpline, including relatives of a child who they believe is at risk of FGM and professionals such as teachers. Practitioners from the Helpline will give them advice, and also the confidence and guidance to take action if they are concerned about a child.
It sounds pretty unpleasant… how does it affect the girls it happens to?
Physical effects could include: death from the procedure (this may be from blood loss or other complications), infections, sexual complications, pregnancy complications, menstruation complications, higher risk of infection of genitals, on-going pain from the procedure including bleeding, problems with scar tissue, difficulties passing urine.
Psychological effects: trauma from the procedure including PTSD/depression/anxiety, problems with sexual intimacy including lack of pleasure from sexual relationships, a lack of trust of people (sometimes parents) who have made them undergo the procedure which may lead to wider trust problems (this could include family breakdown), embarrassment, withdrawal, problems sleeping, disempowerment, worry of their experiences being misunderstood or judged by professionals, stigma.
Every child reacts differently to experiences, some may display no signs that anything has happened; this could be because it has been ‘normalised’ by their community or family. Other children may display signs of extreme trauma. Some girls may have been very young when they underwent FGM and therefore do not remember the procedure or understand that their genitals have been cut.
Are there any common misconceptions you’ve come across?
Female genital mutilation is a harmful “cultural” practice, but it is not a religious practice. Though it is carried out in some Muslim communities it is not part of Islam and is not found in the Koran.
So what’s being done to stop it?
Teachers are on the frontline in the fight against FGM yet a lot feel unprepared for this role. We go into schools, when invited, to help inform teachers and school workers on the signs and indicators a girl might display if she is at immediate risk of FGM or has recently undergone FGM.
Why does NSPCC think this should be on everyone’s radar?
There are an estimated 137,000 women and girls affected by FGM in England and Wales, and since we launched our dedicated FGM helpline in June 2013 up until the end of March 2017 we have responded to 1,626 people who have contacted us.
These figures may not reflect the true scale of this problem because of the culture of silence that surrounds the issue. We know that a sense of loyalty to their community, cultural norms, embarrassment, fear of repercussions or being shunned by their family can all contribute to people not wanting to talk about the issue. That’s why it is important there is more awareness around the issue.
What can our readers do to help if they are concerned about someone?
If anyone is worried a child is at risk of, or has had, FGM, they can call the NSPCC’s helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email@example.com. It’s free, anonymous and available 24/7.
A UK based organisation who focus on FGM are Forward – http://forwarduk.org.uk/key-issues/
A child FGM specialist in London is University College Hospital, Children’s Outpatient Clinic, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Wing.
With thanks to the NSPCC for their time. For more information, please visit: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/female-genital-mutilation-fgm/
More about Jon – @jonbrown46
Jon is a qualified Social Worker with a Masters in Social Policy from the LSE. During his career as a Probation Officer and Social Worker he has been responsible for setting up and managing a range of sexual abuse services ranging from therapeutic services for child victims, services for children and young people with sexually harmful behaviour and services for adult sex offenders.
Between 2003-07 Jon was Chair of NOTA, the National Organisation for the Treatment of Abusers (www.nota.co.uk) and remains on the Board and is now chair of the Prevention committee. He is an Expert Advisor to NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence www.nice.org.uk) a peer reviewer for the Economic and Social Research Council (www.esrc.ac.uk) the Journal Of Sexual Aggression and for the Australian Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse (www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au) and with the Children’s Commissioner was co-chair for the Office for the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into to Child Sexual Abuse in the Family Environment. He was an expert member of the NICE guideline development committee on work with children and young people with harmful sexual behaviour. Jon is a Board member of the Loudoun Trust which promotes good practice in the field of treating and preventing the perpetration of child sexual abuse and a member of the International Working Group on best practice in the management of online offending and was a Board member of eNACSO, the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online (www.enacso.eu). He has authored a number of book chapters and is co-author of Preventing Child Sexual Abuse: Towards a National Strategy for England (NSPCC 2015) and editor of Online Risk to Children: Impact, Protection and Prevention (2017) published by Wiley.
Prior to taking up this role with the NSPCC Jon was Operational Director of Children’s Services with Action for Children. From April 2010 he was Head of Strategy and Development with the NSPCC helping to take forward the new organisational strategy in relation to sexual abuse and since October 2015 he has been Head of Development and Impact.