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Families left devastated by false claims of FGM in girls

From BBC - September 5, 2017

Some children in the UK have spent months on protection plans - or in foster care - on the false suspicion they are victims of female genital mutilation, a BBC report has found.

For the last two years, it has been a legal requirement for health professionals, social workers and teachers to report cases to the police.

But it can take months for a girl to be referred for an examination.

And in the meantime families can remain under suspicion.

The majority of the cases have been unfounded, according to data seen by the BBC.

Female Genital Mutilation is a term given to all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitals or other injury to female genital organs where there are no medical reason.

It is usually carried out on girls under the age of 15, with most FGM done under the age of five, according to Unicef.

FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 and further legislation in 2003 and 2005 made it an offence to arrange FGM outside the country for British citizens or permanent residents.

It is now also legal requirement for all health professionals, social workers and teachers to report cases of FGM in under-18s in England and Wales to the police, and is an obligation for professionals to refer suspected cases to local safeguarding teams.

A study by experts at University College London Hospital in 2016 showed it took nearly two months for children to be referred for an examination by local authorities. There have been waits for more than a year. The hospital confirmed this is still a problem.

Children are sometimes separated from their parents while an investigation is ongoing.

A charity which works with families to eliminate FGM in the UK says the way some cases were handled left children and their families traumatised.

"There's a knee-jerk reaction from professionals when they hear FGM... I do not whether it's terrified or wanting to make sure something does not go wrong. So they really go in too hard," says Toks Okeniyi, head of programmes and operations for the organisation Forward.

Her organisation worked with one family where the child was placed in foster care for eight months, before being examined - and was found not to have undergone FGM.

"This family said they felt like goats herded into a paddock and nobody cared. It is just a hopeless situation," she said.

One woman, originally from East Africa, who were are keeping anonymous to protect the identity of her children, told the BBC that police opened an investigation after she asked her midwife a question about FGM.

Her children were placed on a child protection plan because it was believed that she had undergone the procedure and her two daughters may have too.

She denied the accusations and fought for four months to get the medical examination that proved her innocence, but the ordeal had a huge impact.

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