Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a collective term for all procedures involving the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for cultural or other nontherapeutic reasons. The procedure is typically performed on girls aged between four and 13 years, but in some cases FGM is performed on new born infants or on young women before marriage or pregnancy. The age at which girls undergo FGM varies according to the community. FGM is illegal in the UK. It is also illegal to take a child abroad to undergo FGM. FGM is considered child abuse in the UK and causes physical, psychological and sexual harm.
FGM is much more common than many realise, both worldwide and in the UK. It is reportedly practised in 28 African countries and in parts of the Middle and Far East but is increasingly found in Western Europe and other developed countries, primarily amongst immigrant and refugee communities. There are substantial populations from countries where FGM is endemic in London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield and Cardiff, but it is likely that communities in which FGM is practised reside throughout the UK. It has been estimated that up to 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK. The summer holidays, or other extended holiday absence during the school year, are particular periods when schools are encouraged to be alert to the signs of potential or actual abuse.
Designated senior staff for child protection in schools should be aware of the guidance that is available in respect of FGM, and should be vigilant to the risk of it being practised. Inspectors should be also alert to this when considering a school's safeguarding arrangements, and where appropriate ask questions of designated staff.