Teachers and health professionals are being urged to be extra vigilant about the dangers of female genital mutilation (FGM) ahead of the summer holidays.
Summer is often called ‘the cutting season’ as at-risk girls may be taken to their countries of origin so the procedure can be carried out, giving them time to ‘heal’ before they return to school.
FGM, which is practised in 29 countries in Africa, as well as Asia and the Middle East, is illegal in the UK, with a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. It’s also illegal to take a British national or permanent resident abroad for FGM or to help someone trying to do this.
The Personal Social Health & Economic Education (PSHE) has been working with the Home Office and the Department for International Development (DFID) to address the dangers in schools, and the Department of Education (DoE) has also sent out an email to schools with guidelines on how professionals can keep girls safe before the start of the summer, as well as advice on how to report any suspicions that a girl has undergone or is likely to be subjected to the procedure.
It is estimated that at least 66,000 girls in the UK have been FGM victims - and as many as 24,000 under-15s are vulnerable. However, the true extent is unknown due to the hidden nature of the crime. It involves total or partial removal of the female genital organs for non-medical reasons and has no health benefits. Procedures, which are often carried out without anaesthetic, cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertilitiy and complications in childbirth.
The Home Affairs Committee has blamed a "misplaced concern for cultural sensitivities" for inaction, and has called for a national action plan.
PSHE’s teaching, learning and support guidelines for FGM can be found at www.pshe-association.org.uk/content.aspx?CategoryID=1193
The Department of Education’s statutory guidelines, Keeping Children Safe in Education, is at www.gov.uk/government/publications/keeping-children-safe-in-education