Nurses and other healthcare workers are being asked for their views on how the government should introduce mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation.
The Home Office wants to hear views from frontline staff in England and Wales on who the legal requirement should apply to, how it could be implemented and the sanctions that should be used if professionals fail to report FGM.
The statutory requirement will build on existing guidelines for frontline workers first published in 2011, which set out the steps that should be taken to safeguard children and women from this abuse.
A Home Office review in 2013 found that there was very little awareness of these guidelines and so to improve compliance the government now wants to introduce a statutory duty on the use of them, including reporting.
“We want to further encourage all groups to speak out about FGM”
As part of the consultation, healthcare workers and other professional groups such as social workers, teachers and the police, are being asked whether “known”, “suspected” or “at risk” cases of FGM should be reported.
The government is proposing the reporting duty only apply to “known” cases of FGM.
It also proposes that only cases among those under the age of 18 are reported as a statutory requirmeent, and that the legal duty be placed on healthcare professionals, teachers, and children’s social care staff.
The government is suggesting two possible consequences for professionals that fail to report FGM.
These are notification to the Disclosure and Barring Service, which could lead to the individual being banned from working with children, or disciplinary sanctions implemented by regulators such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
Recent estimates indicate that 137,000 women and girls with FGM who were born in countries where FGM is practised were permanently resident in England and Wales in 2011.
However, despite FGM having been a specific criminal offence since 1985, there have only been two prosecutions and a small number of police investigations.
In her foreword to the consultation report, home secretary Theresa May said: “We know that in the past professionals have been uncomfortable with addressing some harmful traditional practices, concerned that they may be labelled as ‘politically insensitive’ for challenging them.
“We have worked very hard to shatter this myth and we want to further encourage all groups to speak out about FGM,” she said.
The government consultation is open for five weeks and responses should be submitted via the Home Office.