What is my responsibility for FGM as a teacher?
You may have heard of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) but might be unsure of what it is and what you should do if you suspect a pupil is at risk. FGM includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is an illegal practice and considered as child abuse in the UK.
FGM is carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the procedure has no health benefits and can cause severe bleeding and other medical problems.
Communities that are at risk of FGM in the UK include, Somali, Kenyan, Ethiopian, Sierra Leonean, Sudanese, Egyptian, Nigerian, Eritrean, Yemeni, Kurdish and Indonesian women and girls. It can be a complex issue, as despite the harm it causes, many women and men from practising communities consider it to be normal to protect their cultural identity. Generally, girls are subjected to FGM to prevent sex from outside marriage and from having sexual feelings.
How can I suspect if a pupil might be at risk?
Signs that a pupil might be at risk include if they appear anxious, depressed or emotionally withdrawn in school. They could be asked to be withdrawn from PSHE and sex and relationship education lessons if their parents wish to keep them uninformed about their bodies, FGM and their rights.
You may overhear if a pupil has a ‘special procedure’ to attend or a special occasion to ‘become a woman’. Parents might notify the school that their child is to go on holiday to a country where the practice is prevalent.
If FGM has already occurred you might notice that the pupil takes long toilet breaks, a significant change in behaviour, and difficulty in sitting down comfortably.
What should I do if I suspect a pupil might be at risk?
The Home Office has published guidance on mandatory reporting of FGM.
The FGM mandatory reporting duty is a legal duty provided for in the FGM Act 2003 (as amended by the Serious Crime Act 2015). The legislation requires regulated health and social care professionals and teachers in England and Wales to make a report to the police where, in the course of their professional duties, they either:
• Are informed by a girl under 18 that an act of FGM has been carried out on her; or
• Observe physical signs which appear to show that an act of FGM has been carried out on a girl under 18 and they have no reason to believe that the act was necessary for the girl’s physical or mental health or for purposes connected with labour or birth (see section 2.1a for further information).
For the purposes of the duty, the relevant age is the girl’s age at the time of the disclosure/identification of FGM (i.e. it does not apply where a woman aged 18 or over discloses she had FGM when she was under 18). Complying with the duty does not breach any confidentiality requirement or other restriction on disclosure which might otherwise apply.
The duty is a personal duty which requires the individual professional who becomes aware of the case to make a report; the responsibility cannot be transferred.
The only exception to this is if you know that another individual from your profession has already made a report; there is no requirement to make a second.
Where there is a risk to life or likelihood of serious immediate harm, professionals should report the case immediately to police, including dialling 999 if appropriate.
Am I required to teach about FGM?
You might be expected to teach the subject of FGM in PSHE lessons if your school has a high proportion of pupils who might be at risk. You might feel it might a difficult subject to talk about because of the shocking nature of FGM. If you feel unprepared to teach about the topic you can ask your school for additional training and support.
We have also published another article on the topic of safeguarding pupils online.
Where can I find more information on this topic?
There are a range of websites where you can find out more information about FGM. These include:
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