When you think of child abuse you don't usually associate it with a parent who thinks they are doing something in the best interests of their child - quite the opposite.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a very serious form of child abuse - but many parents in communities which practice FGM believe what they are doing is in the best interests of their child - in their minds not to have a child 'cut' would harm their prospects of marriage and would make them a bad mother.
There is no excuse for this practice - FGM is a harrowing ordeal for a child and sadly we know this is the exact time of year parents are planning to take their young daughters abroad to subject them to it. Parents often take advantage of the six week holidays because the child's absence from school won't be spotted and they believe this gives them time to recover - but they fail to actually understand the long lasting physical and psychological effects of this illegal procedure.
Here at the NSPCC FGM helpline (0800 028 3550) we get called by adults and professionals, such as teachers and doctors who are seeking advice about FGM. Since launching at the end of June 2013, the NSPCC's FGM helpline has received over 700 contacts from the public and professionals, nearly 300 have been so serious they have been referred onwards.
One call involved a member of the public who had called with concerns for a young child who was absent from school for a few months for a holiday in Nigeria. Suspicions arose as the child's mother gave varying explanations for the absence and on her return to school the child's demeanour and mood had changed and she complained about painful toilet trips.
Any parent who has allowed this harm to happen to their child needs not only to be brought to account for their action but their attitudes and beliefs need to challenged. FGM is traumatic for every victim and it is essential that we provide psychological support for the women and girls who have gone through it. We also need to ensure agencies work together to best assess any further risks to children within the same family and an intervention program of support for victims and their family's needs to be established.
It is encouraging that NHS England is helping to promote the NSPCC FGM helpline to NHS staff across the country and that Coventry University have launched a new FGM app aimed at encouraging young girls to seek advice. But if we are end FGM we need to increasingly engage with affected communities and we need professionals to receive more training so they can all work together effectively to protect those at risk and support victims. Eliminating this brutal practice will take more than a generation but protecting children must start happening now.
If you are an adult with a concern for a child ahead of the summer holidays please contact us here at the NSPCC's FGM helpline 24/7 on 0800 028 3550 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org - our trained practitioners are here to offer advice and you can remain anonymous if you wish. If you know a child who is concerned about FGM - please encourage them to call ChildLine on 0800 1111 anytime.