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Midwives key role in spotting FGM in the UK

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midwifeA survey last year revealed that a third of UK midwives have cared for women who have suffered FGM.

The Department of Health (DoH) indicated recently that midwives will play a key role in identifying and collecting information about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the UK.

A DoH spokesperson said: “FGM is a serious criminal offence.

“Health professionals should always take action when they believe a child or young person has been assaulted in any way, to protect them and others from further harm.

“The health system plays a key role in identifying and supporting anyone affected by FGM.

“That is why we are exploring the collection of FGM data in the NHS, including in the maternity and children’s dataset.”

A survey by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) last year revealed that a third of UK midwives have cared for women who have suffered FGM.

So given their unique position it is hoped that midwives will be able to raise the issue of FGM with expectant mothers; collecting data on the number of women in the UK who have been mutilated, and identifying at-risk girls at birth.

It is estimated that there are around 66,000 women in the UK who have been cut, and that there are around 24,000 girls at risk, but accurate data is lacking.

Collecting information via midwives would help to create a fuller picture and help to protect girls born into high risk communities.

Janet Fyle, a midwife and policy adviser for the RCM said: “When the Department of Health in the last government set up the taskforce on violence against women and girls, one of the recommendations was that we must ask about mutilation and not be afraid of sensitivities.

“The Nursing and Midwifery Council says where a crime has been committed they are duty-bound to co-operate with the authorities.

“It is terrible that little girls are mutilated in this way. We are the soft touch in Europe.”

I discovered when I wrote an article about FGM for WVoN  last November, that although FGM is illegal in the UK, as is taking any British citizen out of the country for the procedure,  to date not one single conviction has been made.

In France, where roughly the same number of children are said to be at risk, there have been over 100 convictions relating to the practice.

Worryingly though, there are reports of French children being sent to the UK to undergo cutting, because prosecution here is known to be rare, and enforcement of anti-FGM laws lax.

Many UK agencies seem positive about the more joined-up thinking and strategies which the UK government is implementing to stop the practice.

Efua Dorkenoo, advocacy director of the genital mutilation programme of Equality Now said, “Following our recommendation, a new ‘Health Passport’ was issued last November by the Home Office, aimed at protecting girls who are at risk of being brought abroad to undergo FGM.

“Subsequently, Keir Starmer also introduced an ‘Action Plan’ on how to remove the barriers to prosecution of FGM crime in the UK.

“We continue as a secretariat for the second year running of the all-party-parliamentary group on FGM and provide advisory and technical support through the FGM Special Initiative, which seeks to strengthen community-based prevention work.

In early January this year, Dorkenoo continued, under guidance from Equality Now and other groups, the NSPCC finally decided to specifically include FGM as part of its existing child protection work.

“More recently, the Department of Health and Royal College of Midwives both confirmed that they too are considering the inclusion of FGM-related questions in the information that midwives collect at childbirth.

“The UK is well on its way to developing a ‘joined-up’ response to FGM, which will ensure that existing prevention and prosecution measures are properly implemented in a coordinated way.”

Each year 6 February is observed as the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, a day to raise awareness about this practice and the myths surrounding it. This year was its 10th anniversary.

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