For many of us who are not in female genital mutilation (FGM) culture, then the whole idea seems alien and perhaps irrelevant, something that doesn’t happen in Cornwall or Devon. However, be advised that it happens everywhere. Help is available via the NSPCC for anyone who believes a girl is at risk of FGM.
“I wished that there was an FGM Helpline when I was little – maybe it would have helped with all the things I went through,” says Salimata Badji-Knight, a survivor of female genital mutilation, as it’s revealed that the NSPCC was contacted nearly 650 times last year about female genital mutilation, according to latest figures.
Contacts to the charity’s dedicated FGM Helpline rose by 36% as figures leapt from 476 contacts in 2017/18 to 645 last year. Callers worried that girls were about to undergo, or had suffered, the practice included teachers, doctors, relatives, members of the community, and even a small number of people who have been subjected to FGM.
It’s a service that Salimata, who lives in Dorset, believes is a crucial lifeline to adults worried that a child may be at risk of FGM. She was taken abroad to be cut at the age of five and only realised she was a victim of the practice in her late teens. The traumatic event left her feeling angry and alone as she felt she could not speak about the taboo issue.
Now a campaigner, Salimata has stopped FGM in her own family and saved some 50 girls from the harmful effects of the practice – some of which have left her unable to have children.
She says: “My advice to anyone concerned about a child is to contact the NSPCC FGM Helpline. Now it’s all about sharing information, empowering the parents who are scared of the social consequences of not getting their daughters cut.”
Since its launch in June 2013, the dedicated line has received 2,747 calls, with almost 1 in 5 concerns (512 contacts) being so serious they were referred to external agencies.
NHS Digital figures for 2018/19 reveal 500 recorded cased of FGM by healthcare providers in the South West of England.
A concerned parent contacting the NSPCC Helpline said: “A mother I know is planning on taking her young female children out of the country soon in order for one of them to have FGM. I don’t know which country they are going to but I am aware this is the second attempt at having the procedure performed on the child. Last time when concerns were raised, the trip was cancelled. I know the mother has undergone the FGM procedure and that she has applied to take the children out of school. The children are aware they are going away but I don’t believe they understand why they are going.”
It was the same for Salimata who was told she was going on holiday to Senegal to visit relatives. Towards the end of the visit, she and other girls in the village were gathered together for a picnic in the forest.
She said: “I didn’t know what was happening but I was so hurt. There was no anaesthetic, I bled and passed out. I had never seen blood like that before. It was the old women of the community that performed this ritual, with their old-fashioned views of continuing these ancient practices to preserve tradition.”
The rise in contacts to the Helpline could be down to greater awareness, better recognition in spotting the signs, and confidence in voicing concerns, the charity said.
The NSPCC is urging people to speak up if they are worried that a girl is at risk of FGM, as the practice causes long term physical and emotional damage.
The charity also said age-appropriate Relationships and Sex Education would help teach young people that FGM is abuse, know how to speak up before it happens, and know-how to report it if they have suffered from the practice.
Salimata recalls: “It was not discussed in school. When I was a teenager and doing athletics, girls would talk about boys and one day I realised that they had not been circumcised like me.
“It was almost like I was talking another language. My friends started crying when I told them. It was mind-blowing and I was so angry.”
FGM has been a criminal offence in the UK for 34 years, and 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. Victims can suffer from constant pain, infertility, mental health problems, life-threatening problems during pregnancy, and even death from loss of blood.
Kam Thandi, head of NSPCC Helpline, said: “Those who subject their children to female genital mutilation may do so because of cultural norms or believe it will help improve their daughter’s preparation for marriage and womanhood. Yet it’s clear, from the lasting physical and emotional scars on the victims, that it endangers life.
“It takes a lot of courage to speak out knowing that those you love could be investigated, or you could be shunned, so it’s no surprise that female genital cutting is cloaked in secrecy. However, this is child abuse, it violates the rights of the child, and we need more people in communities to join forces to ensure this dangerous practice is ended once and for all.”
In March, a mother was jailed for 11 years after becoming the first person in Britain to be convicted of FGM. The 37-year-old woman was found guilty of cutting her three-year-old daughter in their East London home in 2017. There have been three other prosecutions, but they ended in acquittals.
Since NHS records began in April 2015, 20,440 individual women and girls have been identified as having FGM at some point in their lives.
Anyone worried about someone who has suffered, or is at risk of, FGM can call the NSPCC for free and anonymously on 0800 028 3550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.