Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for Professionals

The Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland in conjunction with its member agencies and the Department of Health (DoH) has launched resources to help raise awareness of Female Genital Mutilation across Northern Ireland. This is also aimed at assisting staff, who work with and deliver services to children and young people, women and families, to respond to FGM.

What is FGM?

FGM includes “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons (World Health Organisation).” Religious, social or cultural reasons are motivations given for FGM. FGM is a form of child abuse and violence against women and girls. It can have serious short and long-term health and well-being implications.

Legal Context

FGM is illegal in Northern Ireland as stipulated under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and the Serious Crime Act 2015. Anyone who commits FGM faces up to 14 years in prison, a fine, or both. Anyone found guilty of failing to protect a girl from risk of FGM faces up to 7 years in prison, a fine, or both. 

Reporting Requirements

All staff have a responsibility to be aware of FGM and respond in keeping with child and adult safeguarding policy and procedures and guidance and to signpost to sources of support. 

Who is Affected by FGM?

Girls are more at risk of FGM when it has been carried out on their mother, sister or a member of their extended family (HM Government, 2016). The age at which FGM is carried out varies. It is can occur when a girl is new-born, during childhood or adolescence, just before marriage or during pregnancy.

Signs FGM May Take Place

Quite often a girl at immediate risk of FGM may not know what is going to happen, but she might talk about or you may become aware of:

  • A long holiday abroad or going ‘home’ to visit family;
  • Relative or cutter visiting from abroad;
  • A special occasion or ceremony to ‘become a woman’ or get ready for marriage;
  • A female relative being cut – a sister, cousin, or an older female relative such as a mother or aunt.

Indicators FGM May Have Taken Place

Possible signs may include a girl:

  • Having difficulty walking, standing or sitting;
  • Spending longer in the bathroom or toilet;
  • Appearing withdrawn, anxious or depressed;
  • Displaying unusual behaviour after an absence from school or college;
  • Being particularly reluctant to undergo normal medical examinations;
  • Asking for help, but may not be explicit about the problem due to embarrassment or fear.

The Physical Effects of FGM

FGM can be extremely painful and dangerous. It can cause:

  • severe pain;
  • shock;
  • bleeding;
  • infection such as tetanus, HIV and hepatitis B and C;
  • organ damage;
  • blood loss and infections that can cause death in some cases; and
  • genital swelling.

If you Suspect/Know That a Girl is at Risk of FGM

Don't be afraid to talk to children/young people, parents, families and communities about FGM.
Police should be contacted if a child/young person is deemed to be in immediate danger. A full risk assessment will be conducted jointly by children’s social care and police in line with the Core Child Protection Policy and Procedures.

If you have concerns about a child/young person being at risk or suffering FGM you must follow the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) Regional Core Child Protection Policy and Procedures.

Sources of Help and Information

  • Police

    • Police Emergency - 999
    • Police Non-Emergency - 101
  • Health & Social Care Trust Numbers

    • Belfast - 028 9050 7000
    • Northern - 0300 1234 333
    • South Eastern - 0300 100 0300
    • Southern - 0800 783 7745
    • Western - 028 7131 4090
  • Outside normal working hours and in an emergency

    • Regional Emergency Social Work Service - 028 9504 9999

    (Friday 5.00pm-Monday 9.00am, including Bank holidays) 

  • Advice, Support and Reporting

    • 24hr anonymous FGM Helpline - 0800 028 3550
    • Childline Helpline - 0800 1111 
    • Childline Webchat