Professionals working with children must be extra vigilant in looking out for girls at risk of female genital mutilation in rural regions in England or where there is a language barrier, a charity and local councils have warned.
Frontline workers should be particularly aware as the summer holidays approach and families could be planning to carry out the procedure abroad, they said.
The warning comes after new research revealed communities in these places do not always have the same level of FGM support services available or know it is illegal to take girls abroad to be cut, they said.
Signs for frontline workers to look out for include girls mentioning a special ceremony, going on holiday to a country where FGM is prevalent or them being nervous or anxious before going away, said the organisations.
Charity Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association - which together run the government-funded National FGM Centre – led a study about migrant community views on FGM in Essex and Norfolk.
”There are virtually no specialist FGM services or prevention programmes outside of urban city centres. This makes it much harder to change attitudes”
It found that in these more rural regions people do not always know where to go for support or understand the negative consequences of FGM.
While increasing attention on the practice had helped challenge the taboo of talking about FGM, newly-arrived migrants and those facing language barriers were sometimes not aware of campaigns warning against FGM, according to the study.
The study also found that while the majority of interviewees had heard of the law against FGM, they did not always understand details – such as the fact it was illegal to take a girl overseas for the practice, or that the law covered all types of FGM.
Those who had undergone the procedure said there was a great need for support services to help women deal with the psychological and physical health consequences of the practice, but that those affected often felt too ashamed to seek help or were not aware of services.
“All communities and age groups, particularly older generations and those who are more isolated, need to be educated about the dangers [of] FGM”
Celia Jeffreys, Barnardo’s head of the National FGM Centre, said: “There are virtually no specialist FGM services or prevention programmes outside of urban city centres. This makes it much harder to change attitudes and work with affected communities to protect girls at risk.”
“FGM is child abuse and we don’t tolerate it here in the UK. Everyone working with children should be extra vigilant in looking out for girls who might be at risk, but we need to get better at holding the responsible family members to account through successful prosecutions.”
She said local authorities should consider specialist programmes in rural areas or where language is a barrier, to match those provided in towns and cities.
Lisa Brett, the LGA’s FGM spokesperson and chair of the FGM Centre’s advisory board, said: “FGM is child abuse and local authorities are determined to work with their communities to end the practice.
“All communities and age groups, particularly older generations and those who are more isolated, need to be educated about the dangers and attitudes towards FGM, as highlighted in this study. But it will only be stopped for good if all agencies and communities work together to keep women and girls safe.”
Official data released last month showed there were 1,242 newly recorded cases of FGM in England between January and March of this year.
In total, the Health and Social Care Information Centre said there were 2,223 total healthcare attendances where FGM was identified or a procedure for FGM had been undertaken.
However, more than half of all cases related to women and girls from the London commissioning region, with 52% of newly recorded cases and 60% of total attendances.
The figures sparked calls for a national action plan from the Royal College of Midwives and “renewed and focused efforts to tackle FGM”.