24 Jun 2013

First FGM helpline to protect UK women and girls

The NSPCC launches a helpline to protect UK children from female genital mutilation (FGM) and bring victims and those at risk out from behind a “wall of silence”.

The government considers it a form of child abuse, it is illegal across the UK, and at least 30,000 girls and young women across the country are at risk.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a massive issue in this country, but it has often been considered a taboo topic. Pressure from within the community often keeps victims quiet and cultural sensitivities make it hard to address for outsiders.

But now campaigners say a new helpline being launched by the NSPCC could be the “first step” towards protecting children.

Lisa Harker, NSPCC head of strategy, said: “The UK’s child victims of female genital mutilation are hidden behind a wall of silence. Like other forms of abuse, if female genital mutilation is not exposed it will continue to thrive and more children will suffer.

The UK’s child victims of female genital mutilation are hidden behind a wall of silence. Lisa Harker, NSPCC

“This is why we believe a dedicated helpline with specially trained child protection advisers is needed to help overcome the difficulties in protecting children from such a complex and secretive form of abuse.”

FGM involves the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs. Victims are usually aged between four and 10, but some are babies. The procedure, which is common in some African, Asian and Middle Eastern communities in the UK – as well as across the world – is often carried out in secret and without anaesthetic, leaving victims in agony.

Some die as a result of the procedure and others are left with lifelong physical problems and psychological trauma.

One step forward

Efua Dorkenoo of Equality Now told Channel 4 News: “The difficulty is, we’ve had this on the child protection radar since 1989, and there are loads of guidelines from professionals, but nothing has really been done.

“But this is still happening to children so this is one step forward to see if people will feel more confident – the public, communities who are affected, and the professionals who work with them – to go somewhere where they can get supportive information.”

The free 24-hour helpline, believed to be the first FGM-focused helpline ever in the UK, will be on 0800 028 3550 or fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk, and trained child protection experts from the NSPCC will answer calls. The Metropolitan Police is also supporting the helpline, which follows a similar service in Burkina Faso which has had a positive impact.

The new NSPCC FGM helpline is on 0800 028 3550 or email fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk 

Anyone who is concerned that a child’s welfare is at risk because of FGM, and who wants advice, information or support, can call the helpline. Callers can remain anonymous, but any information that can protect a child from abuse will be passed to the police or social services.

The helpline fits in with a wider government focus on tackling FGM in the UK and abroad. Earlier this year, the UK government pledged £35m to try to end FGM within a generation.

Crime Prevention Minister Jeremy Browne said: “We need to ensure victims of female genital mutilation get the support they need and the new NSPCC helpline is a vital step towards eradicating this horrendous crime. It builds on the work we have already undertaken through our violence against women and girls action plan to raise awareness, identify potential victims and prevent this form of child abuse.

“Our statement against FGM leaflet will now also include the new helpline number. Together we are sending out a strong message – FGM is illegal and we are determined to stamp it out for good.”