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What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?

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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs. It is illegal in the UK and a form of child abuse with long-lasting harmful consequences.

What are the signs and indicators of Female Genital Mutilation?

What are the signs that a girl is at risk of undergoing FGM?

There are signs and indicators to be aware of before FGM occurs, i.e. where a girl is at risk of undergoing the procedure. These are:

  • Reporting they'll take part in a ‘special occasion/ceremony’ or similar

  • Saying that they’re going to ‘become a woman’, ‘need a special procedure’ or similar

  • Telling others that someone is coming to visit them to perform a 'special ceremony'

  • Parents requesting that the girl is withdrawn from, or absent for, RSE, RSHE and/or PSHE lessons

  • The pupil or their parents/relatives reporting the girl will be taken out of the country for a prolonged period, often during the summer holidays. Parents/carers might be evasive about why this is happening.

Where there is concern that a pupil is at risk of FGM, inform your DSL and a referral should be made to children’s social care. If the girl is in imminent danger, contact the police immediately.

What are the signs and indicators that a girl has undergone FGM?

If a girl has undergone FGM, the following signs may be present:

  • Constant pain in the genital area

  • Repeated infections

  • Incontinence or difficulty urinating

  • Depression or flashbacks 

  • Self-harm

  • Tiredness and sleep problems

  • Difficulty in PE or other physical lessons

There is a statutory duty upon teachers to report FGM to the police if they believe FGM appears to have been carried out on a girl under the age of 18. There are more details on this below.

What puts pupils at greater risk of FGM?

Being part of families and communities where FGM is deeply ingrained in cultural or religious identity exacerbates the risk, as social norms may perpetuate the continuation of FGM. Girls born to women who have undergone FGM are at heightened risk due to familial or cultural pressures to continue the practice. Likewise, having siblings or relatives who have undergone FGM increases the risk. 

Additionally, families with limited integration into the UK community may face challenges with language barriers, in accessing support services or in understanding the law regarding FGM. This isolation can compound existing vulnerabilities and make it difficult for affected individuals to seek assistance. Having familial links or cultural ties to certain countries where FGM is more prevalent can also mean a girl is at greater risk.

In which countries is FGM more prevalent?

It's worth being aware of the countries where FGM is more prevalent, although practitioners should never make an assumption purely based on if the pupil and their family are visiting one of these countries. Use the information about where they are travelling as part of forming a bigger picture of possible risk. Remember that FGM can happen in any country as those carrying out FGM can visit a girl's home and perform the procedure there. 

The countries where FGM is more prevalent include, but are not limited to:

  • Somalia

  • Egypt

  • Sudan

  • Sierra Leone

  • Eritrea

  • The Gambia

  • Ethiopia

  • Malaysia 

  • Mali

Be aware...

What are teachers' statutory duties regarding FGM?

Firstly, FGM is illegal.

Teachers have a statutory duty to report to the police if they discover evidence (either visual evidence or through a disclosure) that FGM appears to have been carried out on a girl under 18. 

However, physical injuries associated with FGM (e.g. to the genitals) are rarely visible unless encountered during routine intimate care. Staff should not conduct examinations to confirm or rule out FGM. Instead, seek advice from the DSL and report to the police where FGM appears to have been carried out.

This duty to report to the police only applies where FGM appears to have been carried out, not when adults believe a girl is at risk. In these instances, existing safeguarding procedures should be followed promptly. 

For more information, see this DfE information on mandatory reporting of FGM. The law which outlines a teacher's duty to report FGM is Section 5B of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 (as inserted by section 74 of the Serious Crime Act 2015).

What are other terms are there for Female Genital Mutilation?

There are a range of terms used to describe FGM. These include:

  • female circumcision

  • cutting

  • Sunna

  • gudniin

  • halalays

  • tahur

  • megrez 

  • khitan

Awareness of these terms can aid in identifying and addressing cases of FGM and ensuring appropriate safeguarding measures are implemented to protect vulnerable pupils.

Take action

  • Create and uphold an environment of listening and understanding where pupils have a trusted adult to talk to, even if the subject matter is extremely hard to discuss.

  • Teach about the risks of FGM at an age-appropriate level as part of a robust PSHE/RSE curriculum.

  • Where there is a concern that a girl is at risk, take immediate action.

  • Follow the safeguarding procedures and speak to the DSL.

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Ready to train your staff?

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Female Genital Mutilation: Safeguarding Training Bundle

This flexible pack contains five resources to support your training on the child protection issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM):

  1. A ready-made safeguarding training PowerPoint presentation on Female Genital Mutilation.

  2. Two fictional safeguarding scenarios on FGM (one pre-incident and one post-incident) that staff can discuss by identifying signs and indicators of harm in order to share how they'd respond.

  3. A set of quiz questions on FGM to assess staff understanding and a discussion prompt to get staff thinking.

  4. A one-page, one-minute safeguarding snapshot to display or disseminate as a follow-up to the training. 

Find out more

Back to Knowledge Pathfinder: Safeguarding
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