FGM - are we doing enough to safeguard girls?

Sam Preston 6 March 2024 2 min read
FGM - are we doing enough to safeguard girls? feature image

Last month Amina Noor, was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment at the Old Bailey having been convicted in adherence to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) legislation. Noor was previously found guilty of assisting a non-UK person to mutilate the genitals of a UK female citizen overseas, contrary to Section 3 of the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Act 2003. Noor travelled to Kenya with a child in 2006, having arranged for the victim to undergo a procedure which would severely mutilate her genitals.

The conviction is a historical landmark for the Metropolitan Police who conducted the investigation, the first time they have conducted an investigation which has led to successful prosecution and conviction. Met officers investigated following a disclosure which was made by the victim to a teacher disclosing FGM abuse which she had suffered 12 years previously.

Whilst this conviction will aid as a deterrent by sending a message to those planning to abuse children in this way, this is only the second time a person has been convicted of an FGM offence in the UK despite it being illegal for nearly 40 years and having mandatory reporting procedures in place since 2015.

The World Health Organisation estimates that over 200 million girls and women have been subjected to FGM in the 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated. But here in the UK, it is estimated that around 137,000 women have undergone FGM and according to HM Government data, some 60,000 girls under 15 years old are at risk.

The key word here is 'estimated'. This is a form of abuse hidden and protected by cultural taboos, rarely shared by those who believe in the practice, and there can be no doubt all these statistics are unlikely to be a true reflection of the true extent of this barbaric practice.

Yes, I stand by that description. Any non-medical removal of a female's external genitalia, which terrifies a child and may lead to a lifetime of both physical and psychological harm, is barbaric. There is nothing that can justify the possible long-term effects of urinary and faecal incontinence, chronic pelvic complications, repeated infections and psychological trauma.

So, whilst I welcome the message this conviction sends, we as professionals need to do more. We need to keep FGM on our safeguarding radar and work to break down the barriers that prevent disclosure.

FGM Duty of Care

Every practitioner has a duty of care to:

  1. Be aware of FGM offences:
    • the primary offence of FGM: which includes the excision (to cut off or cut away), infibulate (to close off or obstruct) or otherwise mutilate the whole or any part of a girl's labia majora, labia minora or clitoris;
    • assisting a girl to mutilate her own genitals;
    • assisting a non-UK person to mutilate a girl's genitals overseas;
    • failing to protect a girl from the risk of FGM.
  2. Understand the signs and consequences of FGM;
  3. Understand their mandatory reporting duty and the procedures to follow;
  4. Know how a Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order can be obtained;
  5. Realise that anonymity starts as soon as any allegation of FGM is made to the police to protect victims regardless of investigation or prosecution outcomes.

For practitioners, education, awareness and training are key in the fight against FGM. Alongside this, as I always advocate, sharing information is crucial. Speak to your Designated Safeguarding Lead, even if a concern may seem insignificant at the time.

Also, in line with multi-agency best practice and our duty of care, we must not only understand our role but that of our fellow multi-agency partners. It is the vigilance of front-line practitioners that enables those in law enforcement and criminal justice roles.

So, whilst we have a mandatory reporting duty, we also have a moral duty to safeguard our young girls and women by working collaboratively with our partner agencies. We have the legislation but without awareness, collaboration and strong effective safeguarding practice this barbaric abuse will continue.

Sam Preston

SSS Learning Safeguarding Director