What is my responsibility for FGM as a teacher?

Overview

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Signs that a pupil might be at risk include if they appear anxious, depressed or emotionally withdrawn in school. They could be asked to be withdrawn from PSHE and sex and relationship education lessons if their parents wish to keep them uninformed about their bodies, FGM and their rights.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.

What should I do if I suspect a pupil might be at risk?

If you have a strong suspicion that a pupil might be at risk of FGM you will want to notify your school’s designated safeguarding lead. If someone is in immediate danger you will want to contact the police. The Serious Crime Act 2015 requires regulated professionals such as teachers, health professionals and social workers to report all known cases of FGM for under 18s. Sometimes you might be tipped off from the pupil’s friends or siblings.

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. You will still want to notify your school if you think FGM has already taken place and you think the relevant authorities have not already been alerted.

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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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
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