FGM child protection squads to target summer flights out of Britain
Guidance for police issued as airports and border crossings put on alert for girls at risk of being taken out of UK for cutting.
New Border Force child protection squads will team up with policeofficers across the country to target specific flights this summer in a bid to prevent vulnerable girls being taken out of the country for female genital mutilation (FGM).
The beefed-up teams at major airports and border crossings in the UK are on alert for the start of the summer holidays, when experts say girls are at the highest risk of being taken out of the country.
Specially trained Border Force agents will be working with police forces, which will receive new advice telling officers to put aside cultural sensitivities and fears of being branded racist in order to pursue investigations into FGM.
The first guidance for the police on how to tackle FGM has been drawn up by the College of Policing and is being put out for consultation on Tuesday – as the prime minister, David Cameron, launches the Girl Summit, which is aimed at mobilising domestic and international efforts to end FGM and child marriage within a generation.
As the summer holidays begin, an 80-strong team of specialist officers at Heathrow, 65 at Gatwick and 21 at Manchester will be on the lookout for at-risk children. The port of Harwich also has a new team, while specialised FGM training is also planned at Birmingham, London City and Stansted airports and the ports of Calais and Dunkirk.
Flights to countries that practise FGM – including Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Dubai, Egypt and Turkey – will be targeted, said Ingrid Smith, assistant director of Border Force at Gatwick.
“The message we are sending with this intensification of operations is that the practice of FGM will not be tolerated in this country,” she said. “Police, border forces agents and social services will act together to stop this and people attempting to take children out of the country will be caught.”
James Brokenshire, the immigration and security minister, said border police were well-placed to gather intelligence on possible perpetrators and prevent FGM from being carried out.
“The school summer holidays are a time of particular risk for many girls,” he said. “Which is why we have teams of specially trained officers at major airports with the skills to identify and protect potential victims and stop the perpetrators.”
The guidance drawn up by the College of Policing is the first dealing with female genital mutilation and reflects growing public and political concern over the practice as well as the lack of prosecutions of individuals in the UK.
Police officers in England and Wales will be told that when investigating the mutilation of young girls in the UK they must consider all child protection measures, including removing a girl from her family if they believe she is at risk.
Under section 46 of the Children Act 1989, police officers can decide to remove a child who they believe is at risk of “significant harm” to a place of safety for up to 72 hours. They can also apply to a court for an emergency protection order when they believe a child is in imminent danger.
Officers will also be told that they should consider removal of younger sisters in a household where there are concerns that an older girl is at risk of FGM, because the younger siblings will also need protection.
Chief Constable Alex Marshall, chief executive of the College of Policing, said: “We want to ensure that officers have the best information possible to help them to protect the vulnerable and tackle this terrible crime.
“We must not let perceptions of cultural sensitivities get in the way of action against female genital mutilation. This guidance will help build our understanding and confidence in policing this crime so that we’re better able to respond to victims’ needs and ultimately bring perpetrators to justice.”
It warns officers not to be put off pursuing investigations because of the “cultural sensitivities” involved.
“Female genital mutilation is the deliberate cutting of the female genitalia. It is illegal, extremely painful and a form of violence against women and girls … Officers must not avoid tackling FGM for fear of doing or saying the wrong thing or being considered racist.”
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, and the law was tightened up in 2003 to make it an offence for a British resident to travel abroad in order to have FGM carried out on a child. Pressure has been growing on police and prosecutors over the failure – until earlier this year – to bring a single case to the British courts. Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, announced the first ever charge relating to FGM earlier this year but the case has yet to go through the courts.
It is estimated that 24,000 girls in the UK are at risk of FGM each year and the college is calling for police forces in areas with large communities that practise the cutting to set up a directory of specialist interpreters whom they can trust.
The guidance says: “Officers … should not use members of a person’s own family or community as an interpreter as this may result in information being fed back to the suspects, the victim or witness being ostracised from their community, pressure being applied to withdraw a statement and the traditional view of the community being relayed to the witness.”
The advice is being put out to consultation with interested parties in order for the police to get input from all those with expertise on the subject. It will then be issued to all police forces to highlight the key areas officers should consider when investigating cases of suspected FGM.
Officers are taken through different scenarios where the crime that has been committed is highlighted. The difficulties of pursuing cases of FGM are also picked out.
It states: “Unlike other forms of child abuse a mother who agrees to her daughter being mutilated believes she is acting in the best interests of the child … in some cases parents may be under considerable pressure from members of their family or community to allow their daughter to undergo FGM.”
The police are advised to consider child protection measures – including the removal of the child at risk and younger sisters – if they have concerns they are at significant risk of FGM.
Ahead of the Girl’s Summit, councils have also called for any promotion of the practice of FGM by community or religious leaders to be made illegal under new government plans to toughen up the law.
The Local Government Association (LGA) – backed by the NSPCC, British Arab Federation and FGM charity Forward – said the serious crime bill being used to toughen up FGM legislation needed to go further.
Ann Lucas, the chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Local authorities are determined to work with communities to end the practice and reduce the thousands of women and girls estimated to be at risk of FGM in the UK. However, their work to change long-standing cultural practices is made more difficult when community or religious leaders continue to promote it.”