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Mandatory reporting of FGM is a bad idea
The Home Office introduced a mandatory reporting duty in the Serious Crime Act (March 2015), believing it to be ‘an important step forward in tackling FGM’.
Justifications for the new duty include that it will support more effective frontline responses, improve multi-disciplinary working and put the safety and wellbeing of girls and women at the centre of its approach to ending FGM in a generation. It also believes that this will give health professionals, teachers and social care workers the confidence they lack to confront this sensitive issue.
I disagree, and consider this legal imperative a retrograde step that will adversely affect the relationship of trust that should exist between professionals and patients, pupils and parents. It will destroy professional autonomy by removing their responsibility to independently evaluate situations before deciding on a course of action. Instead, if they suspect FGM in a girl or young woman under 18 years of age, they must report it to the police or face disciplinary action.
Forcing professionals to practise in this way is likely to make them act less sensitively and to read more into situations than they might ordinarily. In the fevered political climate around FGM, fear of missing an ‘at risk’ child, and the need to ‘cover their back’, might encourage some to mistrust their judgement and report a possible case of FGM where they would not have done previously, just to be on the safe side.
Nor will it further children’s best interests. It could even become a significant deterrent to girls and their parents accessing services, fearing the consequences of their disclosure to professionals whom they might assume they can no longer trust. And knowing that concerns, once reported, will trigger an inquiry, involving agencies like social care, police, the health service and schools, to ensure a ‘robust and appropriate safeguarding response’, will likely add to these concerns.
This duty will cause more damage than it seeks to address. It would be better to leave such judgements to the professionals concerned and preserve the privacy of the relationships that professionals have with the people they are trying to help.
This piece was first published here in April 2015.
About the Author - Bríd Hehir
Bríd is a retired health professional. She started her career as a (volunteer) nurse and midwife in Africa, in Ethiopia and Botswana, where she worked for almost four years. She encountered FGM/C in Ethiopia. She then moved to London where she worked in the National Health Service as a midwife, community nurse, health visitor, reproductive and sexual health nurse and manager over a period of 30 years. She did not encounter FGM/C during that time despite working with immigrant communities who are reported to practice it still. She is puzzled by the current reported prevalence of the practice, the official response and associated activism. And is worried that they might cause more harm than good.
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