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Stronger sanctions needed to prompt FGM reporting

Doctors irked at claims they are avoiding their duty

Jo Carlowe

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The duty on frontline professionals to report incidences of female genital mutilation (FGM) must be enforced with stronger sanctions, MPs said today.

In a report from The Home Affairs Committee, members stated that everyone involved in protecting children must be made aware of, and prevent FGM, adding that in 30 years after FGM was made illegal in the UK, it was “beyond belief” that there has not been one successful prosecution. 

This record was dubbed “lamentable” and The Committee warned that it would deter “those brave enough to come forward to report and address this violent crime”. 

The Committee further expressed alarm at reports that some clinicians were ignoring the duty on frontline healthcare professionals to record data on FGM incidence, and reiterated its call for the government to introduce stronger sanctions for failing to meet the mandatory reporting responsibility.

But the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), has taken issue with the findings, claiming doctors have been wrongly slurred.

Dr Geoff Debelle, Officer for Child Protection for the RCPCH, said: “Doctors take every case of child abuse extremely seriously and follow guidance for reporting, so for the Home Affairs Committee to claim that some clinicians are ignoring their duty to record data on FGM is untrue and insulting.”

He added: “We would therefore like to hear promptly from where this information arises. As far as we are aware there is no solid evidence to date which suggests that healthcare staff in the UK are not reporting FGM when they encounter it.”

Dr Debelle said the College has long worked with partners to establish a number of measures to support the identification and management of cases of FGM. “We have continued to engage extensively with the Department of Health and associated partners through the FGM Prevention Programme and with our members through campaigns, our website and social media, FGM training workshops, as well as through presentations at paediatric conferences. Furthermore, the RCPCH are undertaking a Department of Health-funded study, through the highly respected British Paediatric Surveillance Unit, to ascertain new cases of paediatric FGM in the UK. This will inform why children with FGM are seeing paediatricians, how FGM is presenting, associated medical problems and what care is needed for these children. This information could then be used to plan health services, to educate professionals and to produce guidelines. Only once we have this reliable data can conclusions be drawn about how and if cases are being reported.”

He added: “In addition, the first FGM clinic for 0-18 year-olds has been running at University College London Hospitals since September 2014 and includes second opinions as a national service. Given the low numbers of referrals to the clinic, we suggest looking at other barriers apart from health.

“As advocates for child health who are serious about child protection, we were disappointed that no paediatrician was invited to the last committee roundtable on FGM and the implementation of mandatory reporting. We look forward to working with the Home Affairs Committee in future to share the evidenced-based outcomes gained from the activities being led by the College.”

In its findings, The Home Affairs Committee described cross-departmental efforts to tackle FGM as “disjointed”, and called for The Home Office’s FGM Unit to be made a joint enterprise between Home Office, the Department of Health and the Department of Education. 

It called for links with police and Border Force airside operations to provide intelligence and guidance on high-risk countries, as many girls are taken abroad to undergo the practice during school holidays - a time known as the “cutting season”. 

And overall, The Committee called for a more sophisticated, data-driven approach to eradication. 

Tim Loughton MP, Interim Chair of the Committee, said: "FGM can leave women and girls with significant lifelong health and psychological consequences. We intend to continue to draw attention to this horrific crime to improve the safeguarding of at-risk girls. We are dismayed that there have been no convictions for FGM-related offences. When we next review FGM, the new laws against the practice will have “bedded in” and we expect to see a number of successful prosecutions.

“We welcome many of the steps that the Government has taken to prevent FGM and our report calls for that work to be enhanced and strengthened with adequate resources and support for frontline professionals and other groups which work directly with practicing communities.”

The Home Affairs Committee noted a paucity of good data, but cited a City University study which has estimated that there were approximately 137,000 women and girls subjected to FGM who were permanently resident in England and Wales in 2011. 

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