Teachers’ efforts to tackle female genital mutilation hampered
Lack of training on the warning signs identified as barrier to alerting authorities
19 March 2013
Girls as young as four years old are at increased risk of ritual mutilation because teachers are not trained to deal with this type of child abuse, the NSPCC warns today.
Some school children in Britain are forced by their culture to undergo painful and potentially life-threatening 'genital cutting', often without anaesthetic.
Yet four out of five (83 per cent) of the 1,000 teachers, surveyed by YouGov* for the charity, say they have not had child protection training about girls at risk.
This is despite the Government expecting teachers to play a 'key role' in protecting children from abuse because their position means they can spot the warning signs and pupils may turn to them before they would contact the police or social services.
One in six (16 per cent ) teachers also said they did not know that FGM (FGM) is illegal in the UK, even though it has been a criminal offence since 1985 and there is a legal duty on them to take action to safeguard children at risk. In fact, nearly the same proportion of teachers do not even see FGM as child abuse.
At the beginning of this year (January 2013) Ofsted announced that it would be questioning schools on their efforts to combat FGM.
However, seven out of ten (68 per cent) teachers say they are not aware that there is Government guidance** on how they should be dealing with FGM at their school.
About 20,000 under 15s in England and Wales, mostly from African, Middle Eastern and Asian communities, are deemed to be at risk***. Because of the hidden nature of this practice, the true figure is believed to be even higher.
The ritual has no medical benefits and is purely motivated by cultural beliefs about preparing a girl for adulthood and marriage by making her 'clean, chaste and faithful'.
It can leave young victims in agony and with health and psychological problems that can continue into adulthood.
One teacher who was questioned for the survey said:
"This issue is something that I have neither heard of, or had training around. I feel uncomfortable that I do not know enough about this to help protect the children I teach."
Another teacher said:
"I suppose I really only thought it was a practice which occurred in other countries. It hadn't occurred to me that it could happen to a child in this country in my school."
One of the few teachers who knew enough about FGM to report that a pupil may be a victim said: "My concerns were dismissed as 'unlikely' by the school's head of child protection."
The NSPCC is now calling on schools and Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) to support teachers to deal with FGM in the same way as they would other forms of child abuse.
Lisa Harker, head of strategy at the NSPCC, said:
"There are young girls in British classrooms who will be subjected to the agony and trauma of FGM and a life of pain. Teachers are on the frontline in the fight against FGM yet they clearly feel unprepared for this role.
"Schools and LSCBs must take responsibility for protecting these children by ensuring that teachers have the training, support and confidence they need to help victims of this barbaric practice, and Government must hold them to account for this. Government guidelines are no good if teachers are unaware they exist or are unable to use them.
"The secret world of female genital mutilation means that teachers may be the only professionals these children come into contact with.
"This is why they play such a vital role in raising concerns as part of their responsibility to act on all types of suspected child abuse."
FGM is a taboo subject even amongst the communities that practise it.
Hadas (not her real name), now aged 18, had FGM, also known as cutting, when she was a baby before she came to the UK.
"If a girl is cut, she will grow up to be a good girl, she will not bring shame on her family and she will marry well. I grew up not knowing that I was different, or that being cut was not normal for every other girl in the world. It is a dangerous procedure, but I didn't know this, until I came to the UK.
"I have grown up believing that this level of pain during sex is normal, but I now know differently. I look ahead and see problems in my future with any relationships that I choose to have because I'm afraid that sex will hurt. My periods are painful too and I've been told it will be very painful to give birth.
"When I am with my friends, many of who are from Eritrea like me, we still don't mention female genital mutilation. They are embarrassed to talk about cutting, even though it is something that we have all been through. "
Notes to Editors
* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Sample size: 1002 teachers in England and Wales. Figures quoted from 956 who were aware of FGM prior to the survey.
** HM Government (2011) Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines: Female Genital Mutilation
*** FORWARD UK 'A Statistical Study to Estimate the Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in England and Wales'
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