Ian Currie, RCOG Vice President, UK Affairs writes…
Yesterday was International Day for Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.
Previous estimates are that 66,000 women resident in England and Wales have undergone FGM and over 23,000 under the age of 15, from African communities, are at risk of, or may have undergone FGM. Globally, according to the WHO, between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.
FGM is an abuse of human rights and a form of violence against children and women. We must do what we can to eradicate this harmful and unacceptable practice.
Back in November last year, the RCOG along with the RCM, RCN, Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association (CPHVA) and Equality Now launched a ground-breaking report Tackling FGM in the UK: Intercollegiate recommendations for identifying, recording and reporting, which for the first time, openly recognised FGM as a form of child abuse.
The recommendations provide policy advice for commissioners and different service providers in the UK to better identify, monitor and protect girls and women from at-risk communities, focusing on issues such as the lack data collection and systematic sharing of information empowering frontline professionals and potential victims and holding professionals to account.
Much progress has been made over the past three years to mainstream FGM into existing strategies and close gaps in the identification, recording and sharing of information including; the Department of Health has funded a feasibility study on the inclusion of FGM data in the Hospital Episode Statistics (HES), the Home Office is producing an FGM toolkit for affected areas in the UK, the APPG on FGM successfully advocated for the inclusion of FGM in OFSTED inspections, the London Metropolitan Police Force has set up a strategy group on FGM and is proactively engaged in creating prosecution opportunities and the Department for International Development (DIFID) launched an ambitious £35 million programme towards ending FGM in Africa.
However, there have been no prosecutions to date in the UK, despite the fact that FGM has been a criminal offence under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act (1985) which was updated and replaced by the Female Genital Mutilation Act in 2003. This is a constant reminder of the work that still needs to be done and we must keep up the momentum.
To mark International Day for Zero Tolerance for FGM this year, we welcome the various departmental announcements that demonstrate the Government’s commitment to progressing the Intercollegiate Group recommendations, especially the Department of Health’s announcement, making it mandatory for all NHS acute hospitals to provide information on patients who have undergone female genital mutilation. It is extremely promising and we remain very positive of the activities that will spring from these announcements.
Furthermore, the Home Affairs Committee is currently conducting a new inquiry into FGM which seeks to determine why there has yet to have been a single prosecution in the UK, as well as considering what more needs to be done to protect at-risk girls. The Intercollegiate Group are submitting written evidence to this inquiry which will concentrate on our recommendations to improve integration across health and social care settings and the fact that early intervention is key to FGM prevention.
Lastly, I must reiterate that all health and social care professionals have a pivotal role to play in identifying, sharing information and reporting cases in order to end this barbaric practice. It is the duty of doctors, nurses, midwives and health visitors to identify the girls whom they believe are at-risk and to share such information in good faith with the local safeguarding networks so these girls can be monitored and protected by social services.
Healthcare professionals working in the community are key to the successful implementation of the Intercollegiate Group recommendations in the UK. Constant vigilance is needed and we must ensure we protect the girls and women entrusted to our care.