Failure to protect girls from FGM is ‘ongoing national scandal’ MPs say
Cross-party committee calls for schools to lose funding if headteachers ignore guidance on female genital mutilation.
The failure of successive governments to protect vulnerable girls from female genital mutilation is an “ongoing national scandal”, according to a report by MPs published on Thursday.
The cross-party Commons home affairs select committee calls for schools to lose funding if their headteachers do not read guidance issued earlier this year following a Guardian campaign.
After hearing from victims, health and social workers, police and lawyers the MPs also said there was a case for emulating the French model by checking up regularly on at-risk children,but they stopped short of endorsing mandatory gynaecological checks. It is estimated that 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of female genital mutilation in the UK.
Keith Vaz, the committee’s Labour chairman, said victims had been badly let down. “FGM is an ongoing national scandal which is likely to have resulted in the preventable mutilation of thousands of girls to whom the state owed a duty of care,” he said.
“Successive governments, politicians, the police, health, education and social care sectors should all share responsibility for the failure in recent years to respond adequately to the growing prevalence of FGM in the UK.”
The MPs welcomed the decision taken by the education secretary,Michael Gove, to write to all schools in England and Wales warning them of the dangers of FGM, after a Guardian-backed petition attracted more than 230,000 signatures this year.
However, the committee members said the Department for Education had to do more to make sure teachers were informed and should send the guidance out again.
The report said: “To ensure that the guidance has been looked at, the Department for Education should link the receipt of a proportion of school funding that relates to social education and child protection to the electronic notification that the guidance has been viewed.
“We further recommend that headteachers and child protection officers, where they have not already done so, undergo compulsory safeguarding training which specifically deals with FGM.” The MPs also say:
• Any child seen as being at risk of female genital mutilation should have that opinion regularly recorded in the child’s personal health record. Protection orders should be introduced for those at risk…, as well as provisions to ensure girls living in the UK but without British passports don’t slip through the net.
• Better services are needed for survivors, including refuges for women at risk of female genital mutilation.
• Failure to report female genital mutilation should be made a criminal offence if reporting of the practice does not increase in the next 12 months.
Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions, said the report was a significant milestone for the campaign to end FGM. “The proposals are far-reaching and will need to be worked through, but the recognition that all agencies have a responsibility for FGM prevention and reporting is significant. While prosecutions after the event send a very important message, education and training to prevent FGM in the first place is better.”
Starmer added that while proposals to support victims better, such as anonymity, were welcome “in the end, the greatest prospect of success in enforcing the law lies with proactive policing and intelligence-led cases”.
Campaigners largely welcomed the select committee report but voiced frustration with a lack of some specifics. Lisa Zimmermann, of Integrate Bristol, welcomed the proposal to make training of teachers compulsory. “We are thrilled by the report, education is absolutely vital in putting a stop to FGM – we just hope that the government now acts on these recommendations,” she said.
Efua Dorkenoo, director of the End FGM campaign at Equality Now and a long-time campaigner, said the report was “very positive” but could have gone further.”To have the endorsement of the home affairs committee on this is very important and it is the biggest acknowledgement of the problem we have had so far from parliament,” she said. “I would have liked for them to make the failure of professionals to report FGM a crime, because there is still resistance among some professionals – the government needs to make the decision for them.”
Sarah McCulloch, who runs the grassroots anti-FGM charity ACCMUK,said: “The report is great but for me it has failed to provide guidelines as to what professionals should do or make the government provide funding for local groups to tackle the practice on the ground.”
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the RCN was already in the process of updating its own guidance on FGM. “The report correctly identifies the need for training, guidance and support to help health care staff discuss this issue with patients, identify those who are at risk of FGM, and take appropriate action,” he said. “It is important that this momentum is kept up, with improved training and support for staff, increased awareness, and prosecutions, to send the message that FGM has no place in the UK, or any other society.”
- The Guardian,