Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in early years

Did you know that there were 9179 reports of identified FGM or procedures for FGM taking place between April 2016-March 2017*?

Little girl looking in to distance

Our mini-guide below will help you understand what FGM is and what you need to do if you discover one of your nursery children has undergone an FGM procedure.

What is FGM?

Femail Genital Mutilation, or FGM, is a collective term for procedures which include the removal or partial removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical purposes.

  • It is sometimes referred to as ‘cutting’, ‘initiation’ or ‘female circumcision’ and has been illegal in the UK since 1985
  • It is extremely painful
  • FGM can have serious on-going physical and emotional health consequences
  • It is considered to be a form of child abuse under the areas of physical abuse and emotional abuse
  • FGM is illegal and can be performed on a child who is unable to resist or give informed consent. 

Procedures are usually carried out by a female member of a girl’s family or extended family using a sharp implement e.g. glass, knife or scissors; sometimes the same implement is used on more than one girl at the same time.  It's sometimes carried out on a girl without the mother’s consent or knowledge too.  

Why does it happen?

FGM isn't linked to any religious expectations, it is a culture-specific practice and social norm practiced by families for a number of reasons, often thought to be essential for a girl to become a 'proper woman' and to be 'marriageable'

There are of course tensions for families in the UK that are from countries where FGM is common practice and perceived as a part of being female.

Some may justify Female Genital Mutilation for:

  • Tradition
  • Family honour
  • Hygiene
  • Fear of exclusion from communities.

While respect for families' culture and tradition is important, cultural considerations and sensitivities should not override the professional need to take action to protect a child in your setting. 

Concerns that FGM has been carried out, or where a girl is at risk of having the procedure carried out, should always trigger child protection concerns; your normal nursery child protection concerns should be invoked.

What should you do if you discover a girl at your nursery has undergone the FGM procedure?

It is essential that a child protection referral is made in accordance with your local authority procedures. If the situation is an emergency , you should of course contact the police immediately. 

If you suspect the FGM procedure has been performed on a girl under 18 years old or if she discloses FGM has been carried out; the legislation requires you to report it.  Remember this could be a child at your nursery but also a member of staff.

  • You need to report it to the police force in the area in which the girl lives
  • Use the non-emergency 101 telephone number but in the case of an emergency ring 999
  • Be ready to explain that you are making a report under the FGM mandatory reporting duty
  • Make a child protection referral following your usual referral process as required by the Working Together to Safeguard Children (in England) or Working Together to Safeguard People (in Wales) guidance
  • As with any other child protection referral/concern you keep accurate and comprehensive records throughout the process
  • If the reporting is not carried out by your settings' designated safeguarding lead you should ensure that they are kept up-to-date.

More support 

To find out more about mandatory reporting procedures and your responsibilities in safeguarding children:

  • Download our free member factsheet on FGM (£3.50 to non-members) here for England and here for Wales
  • Take our Qualifi accredited online course 'Level 2 Introduction to Safeguarding and Child Protection' here
  • Access the Government's resource about your safeguarding responsibilities and FGM here
  • Read Multi-Agency Statutory Guidance here.
* According to the NHS' Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Annual Report 2016/17. Read it here