EXTRA funding must be found to keep the centre tasked with ending new cases of FGM in England, and supporting survivors, open as NHS figures reveal cases recorded as happening in England have risen by 625% in the past five years.
According to the statistics released by NHS Digital, there were 6,590 women and girls who either had a procedure to treat their FGM or were identified as having undergone FGM previously when they were treated between April 2019 and March 2020.
Of those, the FGM happened in England in 145 cases.
This is compared to 20 cases in the financial year 2015-16 when the NHS started recording this data. In that year there were a total of 6,195 individuals treated for FGM.
Some 85% of cases recorded in England during the past financial year are classified as ‘type 4 FGM’, which includes piercings. These are considered a form of FGM by the World Health Organisation.
Most occurrences of FGM only come to the attention of medical professionals years after they have happened – usually when a woman has an appointment with a gynaecologist, obstetrician or a midwife.
This means most of the FGM recorded by NHS Digital for the past financial year did not happen in the past year. But the National FGM Centre says it is working to protect girls from undergoing FGM in England every week.
Since being opened in 2015 the centre, which is run by Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, has safeguarded 742 girls who were at risk of FGM – that’s around three girls a week. It has also supported 341 survivors.
Funding initially came from the Department for Education and this has gradually been scaled back with the intention that the centre would become self-sufficient by being paid by local authorities to provide services.
This was a reasonable proposition when the centre was first opened, but given the reduced level of funding for councils, this has had an impact on their ability to fund things like the centre making the self-sustaining model unattainable.
Head of the Centre, Leethen Bartholomew, is deeply concerned about what will happen to girls at risk of FGM in England if the centre has to close.
He said: “The Government announced in 2018 it was strengthening its commitment to ending FGM within a generation and set a deadline of 2030, but government funding to stop FGM has reduced by 76 per cent since 2015.
“I believe we are making real progress with achieving this target. But ending FGM will not happen if the centre closes down just five years after being set up by the Government – we will not be there to protect the girls who need us.
“We know that FGM is still being practised in communities across England. There are still girls who are being cut and so will face a lifetime of physical and emotional pain.
“It is a hidden form of child abuse and I’m especially concerned about what has happened during the coronavirus lockdown when girls at risk have been hidden from view of safeguarding professionals like teachers and youth workers.
“The National FGM Centre is the ready-made solution to helping these girls so funding must be made available so its work can continue.”
Councillor Anita Lower, the LGA’s FGM lead spokesperson and Chair of the National FGM Centre’s Advisory Board, said:
“The work of the National FGM Centre has never been more essential. It represents a ready-made solution to help end FGM and prevent this abuse from happening in the first place, backed by clear evidence of its effectiveness.
“But with the Government’s longstanding financial support having ended earlier in this financial year, the Centre’s future remains uncertain, potentially leaving young women and girls at greater risk of FGM. It would be devastating if all of its vital work had to come to an end.
“Renewed government funding to guarantee the future of the National FGM Centre would support multi-agency approaches at a local level to protect vulnerable young women and girls, including the use of tools like protection orders where appropriate and also by sharing good practice, making expert knowledge accessible and building trusting relationships with families and communities.
“We call on the Government to support the Centre for the remainder of this financial year and look to secure it’s long term future through the forthcoming Spending Review, as well as improve cross-government working and deliver on its commitment to tackle FGM as part of its Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy.
“The Centre’s work is crucial in supporting the Government’s important objective of ending FGM in the UK within a generation.”