The NSPCC has warned that girls at risk of genital mutilation are not being helped as their teachers lack training in how to deal with this type of child abuse.

The charity is urging schools to treat female genital mutilation as they would other forms of child abuse with the practice of ritual cutting, common in some African, Middle Eastern and Asian communities, becoming more prevalent in UK schools.

Some 20,000 girls in England and Wales are thought to be at risk of this illegal practice, according to government figures, but there are fears that this figure masks a larger problem.

The NSPCC says the practice has no medical benefits but is motivated by cultural beliefs about preparing a girl for adulthood and marriage by making her "clean, chaste and faithful".

In January, the schools watchdog, Ofsted, announced it would be including schools' safeguarding arrangements on female genital mutilation in inspections.

Updated Ofsted guidance says that key staff should be able to show how alert they are to "possible signs that a child has been subject to female genital mutilation or is at risk of being abused through it".

However, some 83% of teachers in England and Wales said they had not had child protection training in this area, according to a survey for the NSPCC.  The YouGov poll of over 1,000 teachers also suggested that some 68% were unaware of government guidance on schools policy on this form of abuse.

"Teachers are on the front line in the fight against female genital mutilation, yet they clearly feel unprepared for this role", said Lisa Harker, the NSPCC's head of strategy.

The NSPCC wants schools to create a culture where children can come forward and tell their teachers if they or a friend are at risk.

It lists signs that a girl has already had female genital mutilation as being unable to cross her legs while sitting on the floor, trying to avoid PE, frequent urinary tract infections, being in pain or clutching at her body, going to the toilet more often than usual and staying there for an unusually long time and taking a week off school when she has her period.

Responding to the survey, Janet Fyle, professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “This is an important survey and one that will help to raise awareness of the responsibility of teachers in respect of safeguarding girls at risk of FGM in the UK.

“It is a concern that many teachers do not see this as child abuse, but teachers like health professionals should be aware that it is illegal to do this either in this country or to take a child to another country to have it performed. This is especially important for teachers who work in areas where the community practices FGM. There is clearly a need for training to help teachers in this area, to raise awareness and to give them the confidence and knowledge to act.”

Improving teacher training for 'new' forms ofchild abuse images online will be one of the topics covered at the NSPCC 'How Safe Are Our Children' conference on 18-19 April, where speakers will include Children's and Families Minister Edward Timpson and the Children's Commissioners for England & Scotland. For more details and to book your place - click here.

Posted 20/03/2013 by richard.hook@pavpub.com