Female genital mutilation (FGM) has been a criminal offence in the UK since 1985.
In 2003 it also became a criminal offence for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to take their child abroad to have female genital mutilation.
FGM is child abuse and a form of violence against women and girls, and therefore should be treated as such. Cases should be dealt with as part of existing structures, policies and procedures on child protection and adult safeguarding. There are, however, particular characteristics of FGM that front-line professionals should be aware of to ensure that they can provide appropriate protection and support to those affected.
Incidents in Derby and Derbyshire are currently low. However, in Derbyshire we have recently secured an FGM Prevention Order in Buxton working with the police and partner agencies. The trigger was a referral from the local primary school.
We all must be aware of the mandatory duty to report and have a working knowledge of the signs and symptoms and how to keep children safe from FGM.
You can find documents that raise awareness of FGM and provide advice on preventative measures on the Gov.UK website.
The Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership procedure manual has a relevant chapter on safeguarding children at risk of abuse through female genital mutilation. Further information is also available on the Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership FGM page.
If you have a child or young person in your school talking about taking an extended leave of absence and you are unclear as to the reasons and/or think it may be for the purposes of FGM, forced marriage, exploitation or could be deemed missing from education under the criteria; please take advice from the Starting Point advice line, view our guidance on children missing from education and use your safeguarding procedures.
If you think removal is imminent or immediate contact the police tel: 101.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Guidance for schools
The National FGM Centre has published guidance for schools which aims to equip professionals to respond to concerns regarding girls at risk of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The guidance covers information on FGM and the law, FGM risk indicators, requirements of the relationships and sex education (RSE) guidance regarding FGM and a resource on how to explore concerns and make referrals to children’s social care.
Forced marriage is when someone faces physical or emotional pressure to marry a partner they have not chosen themselves and is illegal in England and Wales.
More information on forced marriage is available on Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership.
Breast ironing or flattening
Breast flattening, also known as breast ironing, is the process during which young pubescent girls’ breasts are ironed, massaged, flattened or pounded down over a period of time (sometimes years) in order for the breasts to disappear or delay the development of the breasts entirely.
In some families, large stones, a hammer or spatula that have been heated over scorching coals can be used to compress the breast tissue. Other families may opt to use an elastic belt or binder to press the breasts so as to prevent them from growing.
Breast flattening usually starts with the first signs of puberty, which can be as young as 9 years old and is usually carried out by female relatives.
It should also be acknowledged that some adolescent girls and boys may choose to bind their breast using constrictive material due to gender transformation or identity, and this may also cause health problems.
Breast ironing and flattening can happen anywhere in the world, but is more predominant in Cameroon, and these other countries: Togo, Chad, Kenya, Guinea-Bissau, South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin and Zimbabwe.
This is child abuse and whist there is no UK law, it is an abusive practice causing physical pain and suffering, and on social and psychological well-being.
Take action if you're worried
If you are concerned that a girl is at risk of breast ironing or flattening, a referral must be made to the local children’s services team. Use the steps to take as a guide in the FGM flow chart issued to Derbyshire schools and colleges and found on this page.
If you are concerned that the girl is in immediate danger, contact the police tel: 999.
You should also contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office if the girl has been taken abroad:
- tel: 020 7008 1500
- overseas tel: +44 (0)20 7008 1500
The National Female Genital Mutilation Centre and Barnardos websites offer information, which staff may find useful.