Anti Female Genital Mutilation campaigners are calling for primary schools to start teaching their pupils about the problem as new figures, issued by the National FGM Centre show that most girls who are subjected to the mutilation undergo the practice before they are 10 years old.
As part of the UK’s new sex and relationship education programme, secondary school pupils will be taught about the dangers of FGM from 2020 but experts are worried that for some of the most vulnerable girls these lessons will come too late. The process, which involves removing a women’s external genitalia, was made illegal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2003 and in Scotland in 2005; however, in some communities, the custom still exists, and young women are often taken abroad for it to be carried out.
It is estimated that 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. The most frequently cited reason for carrying out FGM are social acceptance, religion, misconceptions regarding hygiene or preserving a women’s virginity to make her marriageable and enhancing the sexual pleasure of males. Some cultures regard FGM as a rite of passage into adulthood and is often considered a pre-requisite for marriage. There are no hygienic or health benefits to performing FGM; however, practising communities believe that women who have not undergone FGM are unhealthy, unclean and unworthy.
In February this year, England saw its first successful prosecution of an FGM case, which involved a three-year-old girl who was mutilated by her mother. Although the issue is not as prevalent in the UK its is carried out widely in 29 countries of Africa and the Middle East and children who hail from these communities are often taken to these countries for the procedure to be carried out.
The National FGM Centre wants to see the practice of FGM eradicated by 2030 and believe that teaching the issue across the country, regardless of the demographic of communities is beneficial as it teaches children ownership over their bodies. Leethen Bartholomew, the head of the National FGM Centre, said:
‘While some may have reservations about children being taught about this issue at primary school, the work of the National FGM Centre has shown this can be done in a child-centred, age-appropriate way. By teaching primary school pupils about FGM, we are empowering the next generation to speak up about the issue. But it’s not just down to the next generation to break the silence. Everyone, regardless of their community, gender or profession must be part of this conversation, so FGM becomes less of a hidden crime.’
The Department for Education has said that ‘from 2020, as part of the new relationships and sex education curriculum, all children will be taught that FGM is a criminal offence and about the emotional and physical damage it causes.’
It is clear to see that steps are being taken by The National FGM Centre and the Department for Education to protect some of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society. Will these new measures being accepted and praised by British teachers and parents or will they think that is too much for young minds?