All secondary school children in England will be taught about the dangers of female genital mutilation (FGM) by 2020, in a bid to eradicate the abusive practice in the UK.
The measures, set to be announced by the British government Monday, will outline the “physical and emotional harm” of FGM, as well as increasing awareness surrounding the practice and the availability of support networks.
It will form part of a wider overhaul of the Department of Education’s sex education policy, the first time it has been updated in two decades.
Damian Hinds, the education secretary, wrote on Twitter that the government must do all it can to protect women and girls from the “barbaric practice of FGM.”
“We know that FGM can have a catastrophic effect on the lives of those affected, causing lifelong physical and psychological damage,” he added in a statement.
“Our reforms to relationships and sex education will ensure young people are taught in an age-appropriate way about different forms of abuse and their rights under the law, to equip them with the knowledge they need to keep themselves and others safe.”
The department’s further proposals include teaching pupils aged 11 and above about other forms of so-called honor-based violence, forced marriage, domestic abuse and grooming.
Primary school pupils from the age of four will also receive relationship education, and pupils across all age groups will be taught about “physical and mental wellbeing,” including advice on online safety and the links between physical and mental health.
FGM refers to “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other nonmedical reasons,” according to the United Nations Population Fund.
It is performed for myriad sociological, cultural, religious, hygienic and socioeconomic reasons, but it is banned by law in at least 44 countries.
The announcement was welcomed by anti-FGM campaigners in the UK. Nimco Ali, the co-founder of Daughters of Eve – a charity dedicated to the eradication of FGM – said in a statement: “As a child I had no idea FGM was illegal, I just knew it was painful.”
“Had I been given the education now being introduced, I would have been able to support those in my family to understand, and prevent other girls from being cut,” Ali said.
Leethen Bartholomew, head of the national FGM center at the children’s charity Barnardo’s, also welcomed the proposals, but added in a statement: “It must be acknowledged that most girls are cut at an age when they will be attending primary school. Therefore conversations about FGM should take place at a younger age.”
FGM has been outlawed in the UK since 1985 under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act. This was later replaced by the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, which also outlaws individuals from taking children out of the UK to undergo the procedure. Individuals found guilty of the crime can face up to 14 years in prison.
The NSPCC, the UK’s leading child protection charity, estimates that around 137,000 women and girls are affected by FGM in England and Wales.
A mother-of-three became the first person prosecuted for female genital mutilation in the UK in February 2019, in a landmark verdict given at the Old Bailey.
The 37-year-old Ugandan woman from Walthamstow, London, was found guilty of performing FGM on her daughter in summer 2017. Her daughter has since made a “very speedy recovery” and been placed with another family, the Metropolitan Police confirmed.