THE BLOG

The Fight to End FGM Is Still Far From Over

06/02/2016 09:17 GMT | Updated 05/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Today is the United Nations International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation and depressingly we still have to fight to end this barbaric practice.

The only protection we can throw around our children is knowledge - what to look out for and who to turn to. It is absolutely unacceptable that we leave our girls at risk of FGM by failing to make sure they are taught the dangers in school.

Without this we are in dereliction of our safeguarding duty.

The NSPCC estimates that 23,000 girls under the age of 15 are FGM are at risk of FGM in England and Wales.

FGM must be taught in schools. It must be mandatory. It doesn't matter whether it is taught by a teacher or one of the amazing outside organisations that specialize. But taught it must be.

As a Liberal Democrat minister in the Coalition Government I spearheaded the FGM campaign. We made great strides. Working with committed campaigners like Nimco Ali and Leyla Hussein we put FGM at the top of the government agenda.

From a subject that was hardly known about - it became a mainstream issue. The media were with us on a daily basis and we made headway.

FGM didn't even exist in terms of recording in the NHS. Now it is coded and we know from that coding to a much better degree how prevalent FGM is.

We have FGM protection orders now so that if anyone suspects that a girl is at risk of FGM a legal order can be sought to protect her. Anyone who fears that a girl is at risk of FGM - including potential victims themselves - as well as local authorities, teachers, doctors and social workers - can apply to a court for an order.

Our frontline public sector workers: teachers, healthcare staff and social workers now have a mandatory duty - a legal requirement - to report any known cases of FGM that they come in contact with.

But how will they know what to do without proper and substantive training. The promise announced at the Girl Summit - a world meeting to end FGM (and child marriage) in the summer of 2013 - to train frontline workers has not materialised in substantive form.

New guidance about FGM is now part of compulsory training in public sector organisations. There is an online training tool - but this is not the substantive proper training that is needed to give our wonderful frontline workers the confidence and the knowledge to really deal with FGM.

As for our record on bringing perpetrators to justice is woeful - even though we know FGM goes on all the time either here or in the girls' mother countries - both of which are illegal. A prosecution was brought - but the defendant was acquitted and so we are still awaiting our first successful prosecution.

David Cameron was only too happy to take the plaudits for the work on FGM - and quite frankly having the Prime Minister decide to support your mission is a plus. But you can't have the praise without delivering on the substance. From the Lords I will continue to hold the government's feet to the fire. The fight to end FGM is still far from over.

Baroness Featherstone is a Lib Dem peer and former international development minister