5:40am Monday 4th November 2013
© Press Association 2014
The health and social care system is "failing" young girls who are at risk of been subjected to the barbaric act of female genital mutilation, experts have warned.
More needs to be done in the UK to safeguard young girls and babies at risk of the brutal procedure, a new report into tackling FGM states.
Girls deemed to be at risk are not receiving "adequate protection" against the procedure - which is classed as torture by the United Nations.
There are "gaps in responsiveness" in the health and social care system to addressing FGM, the new report states.
Officials do not know who to turn to if they suspect it has been done, and i f a girl suspected to be at risk is referred to social services the issue may be dropped because some care workers do not feel as though FGM lies within their remit, the report said.
There is no accountability in performance of health and social care workers and a lack of consistent data about the issue, they found.
Figures suggest that as many as 66,000 women in England and Wales have undergone FGM and 23,000 girls under the age of 15 from African communities are "at risk".
The report, written by experts from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, human rights organisation Equality Now and union Unite, states: "There is a growing consensus that the system is failing to protect girls from FGM and more needs to be done in the UK to intervene early in a child's life, and to safeguard those girls at risk.
"Girls at risk of FGM are not receiving adequate protection from harm."
The group made a series of recommendations to tackle the issue in the UK.
Medical staff should question all new young female patients to determine whether they, their children or other family members have fallen victim to the practice or are in danger of being subjected to FGM, they recommended.
They also called for schools and social services to improve the way that they gather and pass on information about girls at risk of mutilation.
Schools that provide for children from affected communities should explicitly include FGM discussions in the personal, social and health education lessons, they said.
And teachers should also make time for one-to-one conversations with girls from practising communities.
Health workers giving travel vaccinations to children from such communities for travel to countries where FGM is prevalent must be aware about the possible risk, the report says.
And a national campaign should be initiated to highlight the disturbing issue - such as those which raise awareness of domestic abuse or HIV, it adds.
FGM should be treated as child abuse and must been incorporated into child safeguarding procedures, the experts said.
There have been no prosecutions for FGM, even though it has been banned in the UK since 1985.
Writing the foreword of the report, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC said it was "only a matter of time" until a successful prosecution would be brought.
"Female genital mutilation is a crime that affects some of the most vulnerable girls and women in our society," he said.
"(It) is a crime that will not be tolerated in a modern multicultural society."
RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick said: " We cannot expect communities or girls and young women to tackle this issue by themselves. FGM robs girls of their childhood and it is an abuse of their human rights.
"This is why we must work collaboratively to ensure that these recommendations, aligned to current policy frameworks, are implemented and monitored.
"FGM is a violation of children and women's human rights, and there is a real need to raise awareness about the damage that FGM can do to young girls and women within the communities that practise it."
RCN director of nursing Janet Davies added: "All health and social care professionals have a responsibility to do all they can to identify and prevent this abuse.
"This important guidance makes it clear that nurses, midwives and doctors must work with the police, teachers and social services when they have concerns.
"This is a growing problem in the UK, and it requires different agencies working together to try to eradicate FGM."
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