With their jobs at stake, both teachers and doctors are now required in England and Wales to report incidents of female genital mutilation (FGM) to authorities following a new law that came into effect Saturday.

Although urged to report immediately or within a day, teachers and healthcare professionals – including doctors, nurses, and social workers – are given one month from initial knowledge of the case to report FGM in girls under age 18. Those who fail to do so will be subjected to disciplinary measures, scrutiny from professional regulatory bodies, or termination.

Part of female genital mutilation is the partial or total removal of the clitoris as well as the external genitalia. In rare cases, vaginal openings are sewn closed, causing both physical complications – including during childbirth – and psychological issues.

Karen Bradley, minister for the prevention of abuse and exploitation, cited the academic and medical professionals’ part in tackling the problem, including having “the confidence to confront FGM.”

"We need to ensure that where a serious crime has been committed, the police are informed,” she said, highlighting the need for a multi-agency response for protecting and bringing justice to the victim.

FGM has been criminalized since 1985 in Britain, although a 2003 legislation added a maximum prison sentence of 14 years and made it illegal for British citizens to practice or procure FGM overseas, even in countries where FGM is legal.

At present, about 137,000 girls and women in the country are living with the aftermath of FGM, with around 60,000 at risk of the ritual conducted by different ethnic communities such as Somalis, Sudanese, and Egyptians and widely practiced in parts of Africa.

The new law covers all FGM cases in girls under 18, whether as reported by the professional who witnessed it or by the victim herself.

Royal College of Midwives policy adviser Janet Fyle bemoaned that Britain has not “been good at reporting” FGM. According to her, the regulation would assist professionals who might have been hesitant to report FGM due to cultural sensitivities.

Some groups, however, fear negative consequences from mandatory reporting, saying the law may not be protecting the girls after all.

Forward advocacy group director Naana Otoo-Oyortey said that while there is a need to report and prosecute, it has to occur “alongside prevention.”

Looking at it as a cultural practice and social norm, Otoo-Oyortey said communities have pressure to continue doing FGM, which entails community training to help them make that shift.

Girls from diaspora populations, too, are deemed less likely to seek medical care and support. Reporting then potentially makes them much less likely to get the gynecological testing and treatment they need.

Britain is believed to have a higher number of girls who have undergone cutting than other European states due to its migration patterns.

Photo: Daniel Kameni | Flickr

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