Dozens of new FGM victims identified in Sheffield

Dozens of new victims of female genital mutilation were seen by NHS services in Sheffield at the start of the year.
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The National FGM Centre warned the risk to children and young people may have increased during the coronavirus pandemic, with school closures reducing contact with teachers and health professionals.

Roughly 40 victims of FGM were seen by health services in the Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group area between January and March, NHS Digital figures show.

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Of those, around 30 were having their injuries reported to the NHS for the first time.

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Only approximate numbers are recorded in the data, to prevent identification of individual women.

FGM, where female genitals are removed, cut or injured for non-medical reasons, is illegal in the UK, and people carrying out or assisting with the procedure could face up to 14 years in prison.

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Most girls are cut before they turn 15, but are frequently not identified or treated by the NHS until they are pregnant.

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In Sheffield, all of the women seen in 2018-19 were over 18.

The NHS says that children at risk of FGM may talk about plans to have a "special procedure" or "become a woman".

Parents may also give clues, including stating that they or a family member will be taking the child out of the country for a prolonged period of time.

However, the National FGM Centre, run by children's charity Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, said these warning signs could go unheard while children across the UK are not attending school.

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Leethen Bartholomew, the centre's head, said: "While children and young people are at home, they are not linked to professionals and there are no services in contact with them – if there is a concern we wouldn't know.

"They don't have those opportunities to hear concerns and respond to disclosure."

Mr Bartholomew added that vital questions which could identify someone as a FGM victim may also be going unasked during health visits, leaving women without the opportunity to seek support.

"It's important to remember that it is mandatory to record, but it is not mandatory to ask the question," he said.

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FGM is most commonly carried out within communities from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and young girls are often flown abroad for ceremonies where it is performed.

Of the cases in Sheffield in which the region where the injuries were inflicted was stated and recorded, they were most commonly in Eastern Africa.

The Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development is working to reduce violence against African girls and women.

Naana Otoo-Oyortey, Forward executive director, said the impact of Covid-19 on black and minority ethnic communities has been "extremely challenging", with survival concerns and loss of jobs leading to family tension.

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"Many women are experiencing multiple challenges including grief, trauma and violence and not focusing on their personal needs. Anecdotal stories indicate that women are not seeking services over this period", she said.

"At Forward we have found the best way to reach women in their homes is through community champions who have been trained to provide peer to peer outreach."

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