Genital mutilation (FGM) must be treated as child abuse and referred to the police a new report drawn up by professional bodies representing midwives, nurses, gynaecologists, obstetricians advises
The document states that the National Health Service (NHS) should also start systematically recording data on all FGM cases and share information with social services, schools and police.
FGM is a way of controlling a girl’s or woman’s sexuality and involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia. In its most extreme form the vaginal opening is also sewn closed.
The ritual mutilation, which is often justified by practising communities on cultural or religious grounds, can cause serious long-term physical and psychological damage.
Some professionals are reluctant to intervene when they believe someone has had FGM or might be at risk because they are afraid of causing offence. Many also cite concerns about patient confidentiality. However, the report stresses that their duty to protect a child at risk overrides patient confidentiality.
Janet Fyle, professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, which helped draw up the report, said it was time for everyone to stop hiding behind excuses.
“Even though FGM is child abuse, it has not been our priority because most people have felt that it’s a cultural thing and an exotic thing that people from different countries practise,” she said.
“Young girls turn up in accident and emergency at age 10 with (urinary) problems and nobody does anything, nobody asks what’s going on, and no one has been prosecuted.”
The report also calls for the government to launch a nationwide hard-hitting publicity drive on FGM, similar to previous domestic abuse and HIV campaigns.
Public Health Minister Jane Ellison welcomed the report and said one of her priorities was to work on eradicating the “abhorrent practice”.
FGM has been illegal in Britain since 1985, but no one has ever been prosecuted.
Efua Dorkenoo, FGM campaigner at rights group Equality Now, who helped draft the report, said it was “intolerable” that young girls were seeking treatment for FGM-related complications and no one was reporting these cases to police.
“That’s what they would normally do with any child abuse,” Dorkenoo said. “But they don’t do it with FGM because they continue to think it is just a cultural issue.”
She said it was too easy for clinicians to turn a blind eye, but they must now be held accountable.
Earlier this year the British government pledged up to £35m to help eliminate female genital mutilation in a generation.