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British Children Learning Basics of FGM to Curb the Taboos

FGM is underpinned by the desire to control female sexuality, but beliefs around the practice vary enormously. Many believe it purifies the girl, brings her status in the community and prevents promiscuity. Uncut girls risk being ostracized.

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An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
A child in a class, pixabay

As teacher Tanya Mathiason flicked through a slideshow to display diagrams of male and female genitalia to primary school children in northwest London, no one flinched or giggled.

Instead, the students eagerly discussed the meaning of the words: female, genital and mutilation.

“Break those words down: What does female mean? What does genital mean? What does mutilation mean?” said Mathiason, the head of pastoral care at Norbury School in the culturally and ethnically diverse neighborhood of Harrow.

“It means when someone cuts off stuff?” replied one student.

“Harm?” said another.

By the time they leave Norbury School, all 640 students — both boys and girls — will have learned about female genital mutilation (FGM), a ritual that usually involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia including the clitoris.

An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

FGM can cause chronic pain, menstrual problems, recurrent urinary tract infections, cysts and infertility. Some girls hemorrhage to death or die from infections. It can also cause fatal childbirth complications in later life.

Young age

As FGM is mostly carried out between infancy and age 15, school principal Louise Browning said she wanted the students to start learning about it in the third year, at about seven years old.

FGM can cause chronic pain, menstrual problems, recurrent urinary tract infections, cysts and infertility. Some girls hemorrhage to death or die from infections. It can also cause fatal childbirth complications in later life.
Representational image, pixabay

“I became more aware that FGM was happening to girls at a much younger age than I thought,” Browning told Reuters.

“Who’s to say that we don’t have survivors in our school? I felt I was letting down my girls by not raising this. Our end goal is for this practice to stop.”

Browning and her team worked with the National FGM Centre, run by children’s charity Barnado’s and the Local Government Association, to devise age-appropriate lessons, which they began teaching in Norbury School in 2015.

It is one of only a handful of primary schools in the country that teaches students about FGM, but raising awareness among parents and children was necessary, she said.

FGM mostly affects immigrant communities from various countries including Somalia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt — a demographic that is well-represented in the Harrow school.

“Many of our families, our children, come from FGM-practicing communities so it is really important that they have this knowledge, that they leave here at 11 [years old] knowing what this practice is about,” said pastoral manager Mathiason.

Shocking

FGM is performed by Muslims and Christians and by followers of some indigenous religions. People often believe FGM is required by religion, but it is not mentioned in the Koran or the Bible.

“Most people who do it think it’s in their religion … but no religion actually tells you to do that,” said 11-year-old Khadija, who has learned about FGM since she was seven.

“It’s just shocking because it’s most likely to be parents who would do it. They’re the ones who love you and care about you, but instead they want to harm you,” she added.

In March, a London solicitor accused of forcing his daughter to be circumcised was acquitted, increasing pressure on police and prosecutors who have yet to secure a conviction for FGM more than 30 years after it was outlawed.

The prosecution was only the second to be brought under FGM legislation introduced in 1985.

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FGM is underpinned by the desire to control female sexuality, but beliefs around the practice vary enormously. Many believe it purifies the girl, brings her status in the community and prevents promiscuity. Uncut girls risk being ostracized.

Sonita Pobi, head of training at the National FGM Center, said the lessons helped children make sense of the practice and know who to turn to for help, regardless of their cultural background or religion.

“It’s about giving children the vocabulary to speak up when something is wrong. It’s about making children aware about the hidden form of abuse that may happen to them,” Pobi said.

After learning about FGM at Norbury School, 11-year-old Oliver said he felt empowered to help classmates and friends.

“When I first learnt about it, I was quite scared because it was happening. But once I knew quite a bit about it, I knew that I couldn’t really sort out the situation, but I would know who to speak to,” he said.

His classmate Naylen, also 11, agreed.

“I think the FGM lessons are good for children to learn because … we could make a change to all of these harmful activities,” he said. (VOA)

 

Next Story

No More Schoolgirls Examined For Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya

We are not going to line up all the girls and test them — you can't do that as they can be stigmatized

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FILE - A T-shirt warns against female genital mutilation. Its wearer attends an event, discouraging harmful practices such as FGM, at a girls high school in Imbirikani, Kenya, April 21, 2016. VOA

No schoolgirls in western Kenya are being forced to undergo examinations for female genital mutilation, Kenyan authorities said Tuesday, after a government official sparked outrage by proposing compulsory tests to curb the crime.

George Natembeya, commissioner for Narok County, said on Friday that girls returning to school after the Christmas break were being screened for female genital mutilation (FGM) in order to prosecute their parents and traditional cutters.

Rights groups condemned the move, saying examining the girls — aged between nine and 17 — was demeaning and contravened their right to privacy and dignity.

FGM, Kenya
Maasai girls and a man watch a video on a mobile phone prior to the start of a social event advocating against harmful practices such as female genital mutilation at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani, Kenya. VOA

Kenya’s Anti-FGM Board said they had conducted an investigation in Narok after Natembeya’s statement and found no evidence of girls being tested.

“The Board hereby confirms that no girl has been paraded for FGM screening as per allegations that have been circulating in the last few days,” the semi-autonomous government agency said in a statement.

“The Board recognises and appreciates the role played by different stakeholders in complementing the government’s efforts in the FGM campaigns but we want to reiterate that all interventions must uphold the law.”

FGM, which usually involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, is prevalent across parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East — and is seen as necessary for social acceptance and increasing a girl’s marriage prospects.

FGM, Kenya
KAMELI, KENYA – AUGUST 12: A Masaai villager displays the traditional blade used to circumcise young girls August 12, 2007 in Kameli, Kenya. VOA

FGM dangers

It is usually performed by traditional cutters, often with unsterilized blades or knives. In some cases, girls can bleed to death or die from infections. It can also cause lifelong painful conditions such as fistula and fatal childbirth complications.

Kenya criminalized FGM in 2011, but the deep-rooted practice persists. According to the United Nations, one in five Kenyan women and girls aged between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM.

Natembeya said he had announced the compulsory tests to warn communities not to practice FGM on their daughters, but that there was no intention to force all girls to undergo screening.

Rights groups said the policy was rolled back following outrage.

Also Read: The Risk of FGM Hangs Above British Schoolgirls During Holiday Break

“We are not going to line up all the girls and test them — you can’t do that as they can be stigmatized,” he told Reuters.

“What we are doing is that if we get reports from schools that a girl has undergone FGM, it becomes a police case and the girl is taken to hospital and medically examined. Then the parents or caregivers will be arrested and taken to court.” (VOA)