Female genital mutilation: abuse unchecked Contents

3Safeguarding girls

Prevention policy

25.FGM prevention often requires collaboration between the health, social care, education and law enforcement sectors. However, we heard during our roundtable discussion that there was an absence of joined-up work across those sectors. A number of Government departments operate FGM prevention and safeguarding initiatives, including the Department for Education, the Department of Health and the Home Office, each with their own focus, budgets and expertise. There is evidence of some duplication of effort and that resources are not being used as efficiently as they should be. For example, both the National FGM Centre, a partnership between Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association funded by the Department for Education, and the Home Office-funded FGM Unit reach out to communities to change attitudes on FGM through consultancy, training, conferences and workshops.

26.Dr Ann-Marie Wilson, Executive Director of the campaigning organisation 28 Too Many, commented during our roundtable discussion that that there were significant gaps between the different safeguarding stakeholders. Vanessa Lodge, Director of Nursing for North Central and East London, praised recent improvements to Department of Health risk assessment tools, but said that collaboration between social care and health in particular needed to be strengthened. Sue Mountstevens, Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset, said that the police lacked access to sufficient information from the social care and health sectors to support the safeguarding process. She said the police should have greater access to their risk assessment and safeguarding tools.

27.The multi-agency approach to tackling FGM has been hampered by the absence of a central authority to co-ordinate expertise, manage resources and adjust strategy when it is found to be failing. We recommend that this is addressed through the FGM Unit, hosted by the Home Office, being given the remit, powers and budget to become the sole source of Government policy for safeguarding at-risk girls and eradicating FGM. The Unit should be a joint enterprise between the Home Office, the Department of Health and the Department for Education in the same way that the Forced Marriage Unit is a joint enterprise between the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Linking the expertise and resources of those Departments, and ensuring that they liaise fully with responsible authorities in the devolved governments, will ensure the greatest chance of successfully meeting the Government’s ambition to eradicate FGM within a generation.

28.Without a powerful, central co-ordinator, we are concerned that finite resources to fight FGM will not be as well-targeted or used as efficiently as they should be. A single reporting and safeguarding system would be the best approach to removing some of the institutional barriers that presently prevent effective safeguarding and would be a suitable project for a redefined FGM Unit.

The experience in France: routine medical examinations

29.In France, children up to the age of six generally undergo regular medical check-ups which include examination of the genitals. Check-ups are not mandatory, though they are routine and receipt of social security is dependent on participation. Girls identified to be at risk of FGM are usually examined every year and when they return from abroad. Medical practitioners are expected to set aside patient confidentiality and to report cases of physical abuse against children. Linda Weil-Curiel, a Paris-based lawyer who attended our roundtable discussion, advocated routine medical examinations, believing them to be one of the main drivers behind France’s high rate of successful prosecutions for FGM. She conceded that the examinations had led to some unintended consequences, in that the age at which girls undergo FGM had risen as parents seek to avoid detection by healthcare staff. She told us:

In the 1980s, we had a lot of babies who had been cut, and then no more until the 1990s. Then they changed the practice and did it between six years and 11 years. We had training for teachers and school doctors, so that they saw girls who were happy before the holidays and then sad after, and they do report. They stopped cutting between six and 11. There have been some trials. That is our difficulty now. At the end of primary school, they take away the girls to Mali and Senegal, and then, at 11 or 12 years, they cut them.34

30.The UK does not have a comparable system of regular medical checks for all children. Neil Moore, Principal Legal Advisor to the Director of Public Prosecutions, saw it as a distinct advantage of the French system and a principal reason for their success in securing prosecutions.35 However, the Minister was not convinced by the idea of routine examinations; she said, “I just have a nervousness about going down any route where we are forcing young people to have a very intimate examination, when I think we can find other ways to detect this crime.”36

31.It is likely that routine medical examinations of children under age six in France have resulted in a large number of successful prosecutions in relation to FGM and contribute to the safeguarding of vulnerable girls. This would be a radical change in practice in the UK and there is a strong case for its implementation in this country. However, it should be noted that it has been shown that the French system has to some extent deferred the problem by encouraging some parents simply to wait for their daughters to get beyond the usual age range for the routine medical examinations before having them cut. We are also concerned that the examination itself could be unnecessarily traumatic for children. Nevertheless, we believe medical examinations can have a role as a last resort in particularly high-risk cases. As improvements to risk assessment methods continue, there may be a stronger case for a system that requires health professionals to carry out regular medical checks when a girl is identified as being at high risk.

Tackling FGM at the UK border and in schools

32.Schools have a key role in tackling FGM—first through identifying and reporting potential or actual victims and second by raising awareness about the practice among pupils. The six-week school summer holiday is thought to be a particularly dangerous time of the year for girls at risk; it is a convenient time for them to be taken abroad in order for the procedure to be carried out because girls need several weeks to heal before returning to school.

Airside operations

33.It is clear that effective intelligence at the borders, particularly airports, is required to prevent girls being taken out of the UK and sent ‘home’ for FGM to be carried out. During our roundtable discussion, Detective Chief Superintendent Gerry Campbell representing the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), provided an update on Operation Limelight, an airside operation at airports across the UK that targets inbound and outbound flights to countries where FGM is prevalent. Metropolitan Police officers undertake a combination of educational and enforcement activities, including the provision of training to airport staff, preventative work with passengers on outbound flights to FGM-prevalent countries, and identifying possible offences in order to take action against those responsible.37 Gerry Campbell said that at Heathrow, 10,000 people had been engaged with, five people had been arrested and four young girls had been taken into police protection to safeguard them.38 Sarah Newton, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism, told us in written evidence, following up the oral evidence from her predecessor, that all frontline Border Force staff are expected to undertake an e-learning course on how to identify women and girls at risk of FGM leaving or returning to the UK and that 2,311 Border Force staff have completed that training. New e-learning for Border Force staff on Modern Slavery also includes a module about FGM.39

34.Police and Border Force operations that target passengers travelling between the UK and high prevalence countries will not reach all girls at risk of being subjected to FGM overseas as countries that are considered to have moderate or even low levels of FGM incidence can still contain regions where incidence if high. For example, “data from Senegal show that 26 per cent of girls and women aged 15 to 49 have undergone FGM/C. At the regional level, FGM/C prevalence ranges from a low of 1 per cent in Diourbel (the region with the lowest prevalence) to 92 per cent in Kedougou (the region with the highest prevalence).”40 The map below shows the percentage of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years who have undergone FGM by regions within countries.

Figure 2: Percentage of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years who have undergone FGM/C, by regions within countries

Source: Unicef, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: a statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change, July 2013, p32

35.While the police and Border Force have taken some steps to improve their ability to detect and prevent girls from being taken out of the UK to undergo FGM in their ‘home’ countries, much more needs to be done. A sophisticated understanding of the regional nature of FGM within practising countries would help the police and Border Force officers to better target and engage with individuals and families who are seen to be at risk of travelling overseas to commit an FGM offence. It would also prevent an overly narrow targeting of flights between the UK and high-prevalence countries which serves to mask the full extent of locations where FGM is practised. We recommend that the FGM Unit immediately form operational links with police and Border Force airside operations, to provide intelligence and guidance on high-risk countries. This intelligence should be informed by the work carried out over the last 25 years by the United Nations, the World Health Organization and NGOs, and information provided by the Department for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office overseas posts.

Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education

36.During our roundtable discussion, a number of speakers highlighted the potential of Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education to raise awareness about FGM among pupils which in turn would support efforts to safeguard girls and report incidences.41 Our predecessor Committee recommended that PSHE be made compulsory, including teaching children about FGM in high-prevalence areas. In its response, the Government said:

[ … ] we do not want to prescribe exactly which issues schools should have to cover in PSHE or other related parts of the curriculum, as we believe it more effective for schools to make their own judgements on this, based on their knowledge of their pupils; school leaders and practitioners have supported this flexible approach. To assist those wishing to teach pupils about FGM, the Department for Education commissioned the PSHE Association to produce briefing about FGM for teachers, and the Association published that briefing in July 2014.42

37.Joe Hayman, Chief Executive of the PSHE Association, explained that the opportunity to raise awareness on FGM in schools has ‘gone backwards’ and that the amount of time given to PSHE in schools had gone down by more than 20%. “I would say this is all about school accountability: what is measured and what is not, and what is statutory and what is not.”43 He called for leadership from the Government because “prevention would be undermined if we are delivering these lessons by untrained teachers or if we do not have these lessons at all”. In January 2016, four select committee Chairs, including the Chair of this Committee, signed a letter to Nicky Morgan, then Secretary of State for Education, to express disappointment with the Government’s response to recommendations from committees on making PSHE a statutory requirement.44

38.Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education has a key role to play in helping pupils to keep themselves and others safe but successive Governments have failed to provide sufficient leadership on this. We recommend that PSHE education be made compulsory and that it include tackling violence against women and girls, and teaching children about FGM in particularly high-prevalence areas. Such discussions between teachers and pupils would be likely to contribute to increasing the level of reporting and to safeguarding at-risk girls.

Role of communities

39.Detective Chief Superintendent Gerry Campbell told our roundtable meeting that the NPCC’s view was that “the solution to eradicating FGM rests within communities”. However, other contributors to the roundtable raised concerns that the ability to tackle FGM effectively in the local areas most affected by it was being hindered by the lack of funding for community groups.45

40.Sarah McCulloch of ACCM UK, an advocacy organisation which works with local communities, argued that “all the resources are in London” and that there were no local services, including in other major cities such as Birmingham and Sheffield. Community groups and NGOs were having to use their own resources and manpower to work on FGM which meant that “we are not achieving anything”. She was very clear that “to reach out to communities, you have to engage, and that needs resources” and that “without funding, we cannot achieve anything”. Alimatu Dimonekene, an FGM survivor and the founder of ProjectACE, a survivor-led organisation based in Enfield, spoke of the importance of survivor organisations in trying to “galvanise communities” and encouraging women and girls to access support. She told us that organisations such as hers “play a crucial role” but agreed that, because they do not receive government support, their work is done “on our own time, our own effort and our own money.46

41.FGM is a hidden crime, practised in some communities within the UK on a daily basis. There is no doubt about the Government’s willingness to confront this abuse but unless sufficient resources are provided to those groups who work and campaign within the communities where FGM is practised, efforts to prevent it will be in vain.

34 Home Affairs Select Committee, FGM roundtable discussion, Q38

35 Home Affairs Select Committee, FGM roundtable discussion, Q41

36 Home Affairs Select Committee, Female Genital Mutilation, Q8

38 Home Affairs Select Committee, FGM Roundtable discussion, Q24

39 Letter from Sarah Newton to the Chair of the Committee, 21 July 2016

41 Home Affairs Select Committee, FGM roundtable discussion, Q41

43 Home Affairs Select Committee, FGM Roundtable discussion, Q41

45 Home Affairs Select Committee, FGM Roundtable discussion, Q31

46 Home Affairs Select Committee, FGM Roundtable discussion, Q1

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13 September 2016