Better news is that the UK Government has now pledged up to £35 million towards the global eradication of FGM. Curiously however few people so far seem to know how - other than it being administered largely via international agencies and in part directed at research and development - that money is likely to be spent.
So... here's an idea for a modest element of the £35m which addresses both the enormous problems in countries traditionally associated with FGM, and also aims to stop this horrendous and illegal 'practice' in the UK....
** We must have a free dedicated UK-wide telephone line. **
Let's call it the 'Keep Safe Line' (KSL); and let's be sure to get the prototype up and running before the grim 'vacation cutting season' begins, when the school summer holidays arrive in later July.
This is what would the KSL national call-line must do:
* The phone-line must be staffed 24/7 with properly trained professionals who will advise co-workers, general callers and people in emergency situations.
* The KSL phone-line should focus initially on FGM alone over the 'cutting season'; but once established it must become the first public point of call for all harm to children and vulnerable adults. (The Victoria Climbie and Baby Peter tragedies demonstrate only too clearly that child cruelty takes many forms; and women at risk of FGM are also 'vulnerable'. So are some older people, and all at risk of domestic violence. )
* The KSL phone-line must be just one simple, memorable number across the UK. But KSL will not compete with currently disperse providers such as the local statutory child protection services - all with different telephone numbers - or the NSPCC, FORWARD and ChildLine; phone calls to KSL will be directed on as appropriate.
* The KSL will record anonymous tip-offs, initiate immediate emergency action, and also offer in-depth advice to professionals and the public. The person making contact can if they wish choose anonymity when the call commences. (The anonymous FGM deterrence feature will help those currently frightened to speak out - a serious personal safety issue in some UK communities.)
* The multitude of Government Department FGM guidelines etc can be collated on a website with the single national KSL phone number as a main search term, thus bringing together all the various attempts at legal (criminal law) action, advice and information. This will help to make both hard-pressed professionals and the general public aware of these resources and how to use them.
* The KSL number can be co-ordinated with texting and an email address which will reach the same advisors, for anyone concerned about child abuse or FGM who cannot, or prefers not to, make a direct telephone call.
* The FGM 'Passport' for children at risk of being taken abroad for 'vacation cutting' must carry the KSL single national phone number, prominently displayed.
* Importantly, the KSL national phone-line can also be a prototype for use in other countries as well as Britain. Once the methodologies have been developed they can easily be transported (and adapted) for use elsewhere.
The KSL phone -ine provides a practical, real-time mode for developing integrated FGM services; and it puts FGM firmly in the category of criminal abuse.
A co-ordinated 24/7 national phone line also provides a rich seam for policy researchers - important, as the promised £35 million to stop FGM expressly includes research. Facilitating both anonymous reporting and a personal discussion service, it will offer opportunities to identify where certain types of crimes are most common, and at what ages / on whom they are inflicted. (And, although this cannot be a first priority when child abuse is concerned, in the longer run it will actually reduce required public spending.)
Given that FGM is not the 'only' traditional harmful practice which women and girls in some communities are forced to endure, the phone-line will help also to identify the extent to which these other grim practices exist in the UK. Over time all the research findings will help in assigning the right resources to the right places.
The temptation on-high to allocate blame ("It's teachers' / whoever's fault...") rather than address deeply-embedded problems is avoided when a simple and easily understood mechanism to deliver appropriate action is to hand.
There are those who suppose every aspect of public service is best administered and funded at local level. The total failure in the UK thus far to protect young girls from FGM provides tragic and compelling confirmation that this is belief is irremediably wrong. To continue in such a mode amounts to knowing, cruel neglect of children at risk of a barbaric, sometimes deadly 'traditional practice'.
We are promised £35 million towards the eradication of female genital mutilation world-wide. The KSL Keep Safe Phone-Line proposed here will take just a small fraction of that money, even after implementation and staff training and publicity.
The FGM high season almost upon us. Let's now focus intently on implementing a pilot KSL service before it begins.
Hilary Burrage is currently writing a book, Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective. Read more by her about FGM here.
Please sign HM Government e-petition, No. 35313, to STOP Female Genital Mutilation (FGM / 'cutting') in Britain (for UK citizens and residents). This e-petition is open for signatures until 26 June 2013.
There is also an e-petition for everyone, everywhere to sign: UK Government: Enforce the UK law which forbids FGM (Female Genital so-called 'Cutting').
For updates on FGM in the UK and elsewhere you can subscribe (for free) to #NoFGM Daily News.
[Activists may find it helpful to know that any Tweet with the hashtag #FGM will appear in the following day's bulletin.]
If you suspect that a girl is at risk of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), or that she has already undergone this 'procedure' (in which case she needs support, and other girls in the family may be at risk also), report it immediately to Social Services, the police or the NSPCC and FORWARD. .... And then please demand that the single number national KSL Keep Safe PhoneLine is established as a matter of urgency, so that others will in future find it easier to make contact with the appropriate authorities and support services.