Concern that mutilation victims are being failed
Friday, June 28, 2013
HEALTHCARE professionals in Scotland are failing victims of female genital mutilation (FGM), according to an organisation that campaigns against the illegal and life-threatening practice.
Edinburgh-based charity Dignity Alert Research Forum (DARF) said some doctors and nurses are ignorant about FGM and the serious health problems suffered by victims.
DARF voiced its concerns after the NSPCC announced on Monday it was launching a national helpline to protect children from FGM. The NSPCC revealed more than 1700 victims of FGM were referred to specialist clinics for treatment over the past two years. The youngest victim was seven.
DARF estimates up to 3000 women in Scotland – mostly within the refugee community – have suffered FGM. The charity was formed in 2007 to support victims of FGM and child/forced marriages and has been researching victims' experience of childbirth in Scotland.
DARF said doctors often fail to ask relevant questions and pregnant women reported being left humiliated after becoming objects of curiosity to medical staff who appeared completely ignorant of FGM.
Amina, a DARF researcher from Somalia, said there is a lack of medical expertise available.
She said: "One lady attending hospital said the first nurse who saw she was sewn-up was visibly shocked and said, 'oh my God – what happened to you?'.
"On her next visit to the hospital, all the other nurses came to have a look. The woman said she would rather die than return because she felt so humiliated. Other interviewees reported similar experiences."
Amina suffered FGM aged five in Somalia but only realised what happened after arriving in Britain in 2004.
She said: "There is often tremendous pressure from back home placed upon women living in the UK to have FGM performed on their children. If I ever have a child, then I'd be extremely reluctant to take her to Somalia for a visit as I fear relatives would try and have FGM performed on the child without my permission."
FGM – also known as female circumcision – is practised in 28 African countries and some in Asia and the Middle East.
Some Christian and Muslim communities believe FGM is a necessary part of becoming a woman, that it reduces female sex drive and therefore the chances of sex outside marriage.
The practice is often performed with crude instruments, by untrained people and with no anaesthetic.
There are 14 specialist FGM clinics in England but only one in Scotland.
Annie Lawson, a volunteer translator with DARF who is fluent in Swahili, said, in her experience, doctors often fail to ask even obvious questions when seeing pregnant African women.
"For example, I went with a lady from Burundi where around 90% of women suffer FGM and the doctor never asked her about it.
"I thought, 'this is the most important thing you need to know.' But as an interpreter, I was not allowed to interfere."
FGM has been unlawful in Scotland since 1985 under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985, but no arrests have been made.
DARF says it is likely FGM is carried out secretly in Scotland although most children are sent abroad to have it performed.
NHS Lothian said it had a group of female consultants who specialise in FGM but training will be offered to clinical staff to further raise awareness of the issue.
A spokesman added: "Any women who are in this situation and wish to access specialist advice can be fast-tracked to this group of doctors for a one-to-one consultation."
Launching the helpline this week, the NSPCC said child victims of FGM are hidden behind a "wall of silence" and more children are likely to suffer.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "FGM is an unacceptable and illegal practice and is highlighted in our Gender-Based Violence plan. Policies and protocols are in place within midwifery services, sexual health services, child protection, and emergency services.
"We also expect our staff to follow clinical guidance from the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and other professional bodies.
"If there are cases of concern we would respond by fully investigating the issues raised so that we can continue to ensure we deal appropriately with FGM victims."
l Anyone worried about a child being or who has been a victim of FGM can call the NSPCC on 0800 028 3550 for information and support.