Teachers and schools should check on the holiday arrangements of pupils from communities which practice female genital mutilation (FGM), a conference was told.
Delegates at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' annual conference became the first teachers to discuss the issue at a national conference yesterday when they called on the Home Office to draw up a national strategy for eradicating the practice in the UK.
Helen Porter, from Berkshire, moving the motion, told the conference it was estimated 66,000 women resident in England and Wales had undergone the process and over 23,000 girls under the age of 15 were at risk or had already undergone FGM.
“As education staff, we need to raise awareness and encourage young women and women to question FGM,“ said Ms Porter. ”We need to help reposition FGM in terms of violence against women and girls not cultural practice.
“Schools and education staff can help by opening discussion with parents and scrutinising holiday requests and summer holiday plans from members of communities that practice FGM.
”They should be vigilant for the signs of FGM such as frequent toilet visits and pain whilst sitting down.“
In particular, she said teachers should persuade boys to challenge the practice. ”Do they want this for their sisters, daughters, girlfriends or wives?“ she asked.
Experts have predicted children are in more danger of having FGM carried out in the summer holidays - when they can go abroad to have it carried and have more time to recover from the after effects before mixing with people at school.
Niamh Sweeney, from Cambridgeshire, added: ”FGM is the violent, brutal and systematic abuse of young girls and should be treated as such in every section of a fair and just society.
“But young child victims are unlikely to come forward due to the stigma attached to such violent crime. It is vital that peers, brothers, uncles, fathers, mothers, other family members and anyone else is aware and knows what to do should they suspect and discover it.”
She said it was “a scandal” that campaigners had to rely on TV programmes such as “Law and Order UK” and “Casualty” for highlighting the issue when it needed “joined up thinking” from government departments to draw up a strategy to combat it.
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said scrutinising holiday arrangements was “just one of a number of suggestions” for tackling the issue.
“There will be a whole range of issues that we need to think about - what do teachers need to know and what can teachers do,” she said. “There needs to be a clear system for them to report their concerns.”
She praised Education Secretary Michael Gove who has written to all headteachers stressing the fact that FGM is a safeguarding issue and they should be on the alert to look out for signs it may be about to happen to some pupils in their schools.
Yesterday's motion, which was carried unanimously, called on teachers to campaign to raise awareness of the issue in schools.