Articles on Shifting Sands
New advisor missed opportunity to celebrate FGM decline UK
The International Day of the Girl Child (IDGC), October 11, is when “girls’ rights and the unique challenges they face worldwide” are recognised. Many, including the WHO, consider FGM a violation of girls human rights.
A small but important piece of original research which should have received more publicity, was published just a week before the IDGC. It confirmed that few young children are now presenting with FGM in Britain (or Ireland). The few cases being reported are historic – carried out prior to the children arriving here. And as it’s been known for some time that genital piercings are the ‘FGM’ being seen in older teenagers, it means nobody is presenting with new types of FGM. This surely is a success story worth sharing and celebrating?
It was disappointing therefore that Nimco Ali, the new UK Home Office independent advisor for tackling violence against women and girls, missed the opportunity the IDGC afforded to share this news with the world and to celebrate it.
She could even have claimed the Home Office’s contribution to this success (as opposed to the most likely cause – voluntary cultural change after migration) and gotten away with it?
But then the Royal Colleges, charities, campaigners or the myriad of organisations that constitute the ‘FGM industry’ did not publicise or celebrate the research findings either. One can but wonder why.
The epidemiological surveillance study was designed by Consultant Community Paediatrician and FGM expert Dr Deborah Hodes and colleagues, and performed through the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit.
Intervention data about children under 16 years old and meeting the WHO classification of FGM was collected in the UK and Ireland from November 2015-2017 and during a 12 month follow-up period. Participants included Consultant Paediatricians and Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) Leads.
Findings: 103 cases confirmed, 90 classified
Of the 146 cases reported, 71 per cent (103) had confirmed FGM, and 29 per cent (43) did not meet the case definition. Only 90 cases were classified. A case in the Irish Republic was excluded being the subject of criminal proceedings. None were reported from Northern Ireland.
Of the confirmed cases:
- the average age was 3 years
- 58 per cent (n=60) had either Type i or ii
- 8 per cent (n=8) had Type iii
- 21 per cent (n=22) had Type iv
- 13 per cent (n=13) were not classified
- none had piercings or labiaplasty
- 70 per cent had FGM performed in Africa, others in Europe, Middle East and South-East Asia
- few physical and mental health symptoms were identified
- one case only had resulted in a successful prosecution.
The authors concluded that low numbers of children were presenting with FGM, and surmised that the findings might be consistent with attitudinal changes in practising communities.
This confirms what some have been reporting since at least 2009 when explorative studies had shown trends of radical change in the practice, especially in the most extensive form (infibulation), as well as cultural change wrought by migration.
The researchers recommended that those at risk should be protected and supported by culturally competent, national policies.
The findings should raise important questions about the response to what was considered an “FGM epidemic“, and use them as a basis for reviewing the FGM Prevention Programme. These numbers, in addition to NHS digital data, indicate that few girls are presenting to health care services with FGM.
Some have grave reservations about the single UK conviction.
About the Author - Bríd Hehir
Bríd is a retired health professional. She started her career as a nurse and midwife in Africa 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.