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A letter from Sussex Place, November 2013

Ian Currie, Vice President, UK Affairs, writes...

I know that I do not need to explain to the profession the definition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) nor outline the abhorrence of such a practice to everyone who works in women’s health. What I do need to tell you is that the College is at the forefront of coordinating both the medical profession and outside agencies in producing a strategy to tackle this form of child abuse. It is with the College’s influence and the passion of our Members and Fellows that we would hope to eradicate such a practice.

According to the charity Forward, in 2007 an estimated 66,000 women in England and Wales were subjected to FGM and currently over 24,000 girls under 15 are potentially at risk of undergoing the practice. This is despite the fact that the UK has had a specific legislation banning it since 1985. In 2003, (2005 in Scotland) the law was updated, imposing severe penalties for offenders and they may now face a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

In May this year, the Intercollegiate Group made up of the RCOG, along with the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), the Royal College of Nurses (RCN), Community Practitioners and Healthcare Visitors Association (CPHVA) and Equality Now joined forces to look at ways of improving inter-agency working so that girls who are at risk are safeguarded from this unacceptable practice.

This unique coalition produced the report: Tackling FGM in the UK: Intercollegiate recommendations for identifying, recording and reporting, which was recently launched at the House of Commons. This ground-breaking collaboration and report recognises that implementing a comprehensive multi-agency action plan is urgently required to ensure these young girls at risk of undergoing FGM are protected by the existing UK legal framework. I would urge you all to follow the link and read it.

In summary, the report makes nine recommendations for tackling FGM in the UK and considers issues such as the lack of consistent data collection about FGM in the NHS. The recommendations suggest that babies, children and adolescent girls presenting with FGM or at risk of being “cut” should be considered as potential victims of crime and referred to support services and the police, as appropriate.

It is the duty of all healthcare professionals to identify the girls who they believe are at risk. This information must be shared in good faith and in a timely manner with the local safeguarding networks so these girls can be monitored and protected by social services. Such an approach follows the life-course model of health and social care that the RCOG advocates.

To quote our president, “FGM is violence against women and we must find ways to eradicate this harmful and unacceptable practice. It is a form of child abuse with many long-term consequences”.

Ian Currie
Vice President, UK Affairs