The dangers of female genital mutilation (FGM) will be on the curriculum in English secondary schools by 2020 as part of new government education guidelines.
FGM – the deliberate cutting or removal of external female genitalia – was made illegal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2003. Scotland outlawed the practice two years later.
Despite this, FGM is still carried out in the UK; the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children estimates 137,000 women and girls are currently affected in England and Wales. The practice made headlines recently when a 37-year-old mother became the first person in the UK to be convicted of FGM.
Compulsory classes by 2020
The new curriculum guidelines, announced by UK Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, include FGM as part of compulsory relationships and sex education classes to be taught at secondary schools by 2020. As well as addressing both the physical and emotional damage caused by FGM, the classes will also highlight the support that is available to anyone affected.
Mr Hinds said it was important young people were taught about different forms of abuse and made aware of their legal rights in an age-appropriate way.
“We know FGM can have a catastrophic effect, causing life-long physical and psychological damage,” he said.
“Everyone must do all they can to protect women and girls from this extreme form of gendered violence. There is a legislation aspect, but just as important is awareness and challenging assumptions – which is why we are making sure all pupils are given all the facts at secondary school.”
A total of 296 FGM Protection Orders have been made in the UK since July 2015 to safeguard people at risk.
Raising awareness of abuse
The education reforms will include relationship education for primary age children, and relationships and sex education (RSE) for those at secondary schools. Pupils at all state-funded schools in England, including academies, grammar and free schools, will receive health education. At secondary level, students will also learn about issues such as honour-based abuse, grooming, forced marriage and domestic abuse.
The Welsh government is currently consulting on new sexual education guidance – including FGM – for its schools. While sex and relationship education forms part of the Welsh curriculum, it is not compulsory.
The Scottish curriculum is non-statutory. Schools and local authorities make their own decisions about what is included. While FGM isn’t currently included, a consultation paper introducing a bill on FGM was published by ministers in 2018.
In Northern Ireland, each school must have its own written policy on how it will deliver relationship and sexuality education. The curriculum does not currently include FGM, but an awareness campaign was launched by the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland last year after 17 cases of FGM were identified during a nine-month period.