FGM/C Shifting Sands

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Tens of thousands of girls living in the UK are not at risk of FGC/M

Published 20 January 2022 Associated Categories The facts
Tens of thousands of UK girls not at risk of FGM

A University of Bristol open access paper,‘Available evidence suggests that prevalence and risk of female genital cutting/mutilation (FGC/M) in the UK is much lower than widely presumed – policies based on exaggerated estimates are harmful to girls and women from affected communities’, was published 15 Jan 2022.

The lead author is Saffron Karlsen.

The paper reviews the data on which the claim ‘tens of thousands of girls’ are living in the UK with the risk of experiencing FGC/M. And finds that the data available with which to establish the scale of such risk is both sparse and problematic, and that the numbers claimed to be at risk are considerably over-inflated.

While completely of the view that there is a need to protect children at risk from harm, the paper notes;

  • there are clear limitations with the data and any policy on which it is based
  • available evidence indicates that the number of cases of FGC/M experienced by girls aged under the age of 18 and living in the UK is very low
  • current policy and practice relating to FGC/M in the UK may be based on inaccurate evidence
  • current approaches to FGM-safeguarding which assume high prevalence among certain communities appears unreliable and can actively contribute to the stigmatisation, discrimination and criminalisation of individual children, their parents and families, and their communities
  • research suggests that there has been a dramatic decline in the popularity of the practice among those with heritage in FGC/M-practising groups living in low prevalence countries
  • The authors recommend that a bespoke mechanism which can better determine the attitudes, knowledge, and experiences of FGC/M of those living in the UK today, in partnership with those with heritage in FGC/M-affected communities needs to be developed. 
  • It was good to learn that the NHS had finally responded to two areas of concern
  • early versions of data returns collected information on the numbers of daughters born to women identified as having had FGC/M. This was intended to give some detail about the population potentially at risk. This approach has since been revised and NHS Digital is currently working to remove these cases from the Enhanced Dataset
  • individuals can now refuse permission to submit their information to the NHS Dataset

The full report can be accessed here.

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About the Author -

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.


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