Information for Social workers
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting is the deliberate cutting or altering of the female genital area for no medical reason. It has many names, including cutting, female circumcision and ritual female surgery. It is harmful to women’s health and is not necessary.
If you are a social worker or working for child protection services, you may be called to investigate and perform risk assessments for FGM cases. It is essential as a social worker to have a comprehensive understanding of FGM and the impact it can have on girls and women’s lives.
It’s impossible to provide concrete evidence of intent when it comes to FGM. However, there are certain signs to be aware of that may indicate an increased risk of FGM, including: 1
- Family buying tickets for a “vacation” away to child’s country of origin or another country that practices FGM 1
- Having a mother or sibling who has undergone FGM, or 1
- Having a father from a community where FGM is prevalent. 1
- Remember if the family support FGM and the mother is from an FGM affected community, even if the mother does not support FGM she may not be able to protect her daughter if other relatives still support the practice. 1
- The presence of an older relative from an FGM-affected community could be cause for concern. 1
When assessing the risk of female genital mutilation (FGM), social workers should consider a range of questions to identify factors that may increase the risk of FGM for a particular child or young person. Here are some questions that social workers may ask when assessing the risk of FGM:
What is the child’s or young person’s cultural and ethnic background? 2,3
What is the family’s immigration history, and what is their connection to countries where FGM is prevalent? 2,3
Have any other female family members undergone FGM? ,3
What is the family’s attitude towards FGM? 2,3
Have any arrangements been made for the child or young person to travel abroad? 2,3
Has the child or young person expressed any concerns or fears about FGM? 2,3
What is the child’s or young person’s relationship with their parents and other family members? 2,3
Is the child or young person aware of their rights and how to access support if they feel at risk of FGM? 2,3
What is the level of knowledge and understanding of FGM within the wider community? 2,3
Following a referral for FGM:
After receiving a referral for FGM, the following steps are recommended:4
- Arrange a meeting with the family to discuss the legal status of FGM and the potential danger to the child. Explain that investigation is necessary to ensure the child’s safety, but this does not necessarily mean the child will be removed. It is important to convey that FGM is a serious crime.4
- Organize a child protection order that includes regular medical check-ups to monitor the child’s safety. In some cases, travel restrictions may be necessary.4
- Unless the family is strongly expressing their intention to have the daughter undergo FGM, there is typically no need to remove the child. However, if such an intention is expressed, protective measures must be taken immediately.4
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is illegal in all states and territories of Australia. The laws surrounding FGM in each state and territory are similar, with slight variations in penalties and definitions of the practice.
- World Health Organization. (2016). Global strategy to accelerate the elimination of female genital mutilation 2016-2021. Geneva: World Health Organization.
- FGM Professional Guidance Forms (publishing.service.gov.uk)
- International Federation of Social Workers. (2016). Female genital mutilation: Guidelines to social workers. https://www.ifsw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/FGM-guidelines.pdf
Information for Child Care Workers
If you work in early childhood education and care, it is important that you also know about female genital mutilation in order to protect girls or detect if female genital mutilation has occurred. FGM is physical abuse, sexual abuse and psychological abuse.
Child care workers play an important role in safeguarding children and preventing female genital mutilation (FGM). Child care workers should understand that FGM is a deeply ingrained cultural practice in some communities, and may be seen as a rite of passage or a way to ensure a girl’s future marriage prospects. However, FGM is a violation of human rights and is illegal in many countries, including Australia.1
Recognizing FGM: Child care workers should be aware of the signs and symptoms of FGM, which can include1:
- Difficulty walking, sitting or standing1
- Frequent urination1
- Prolonged bleeding1
- When changing nappies watch out for girls who may have injuries to their genitals1
Given the close relationships and knowledge that early childhood educators often have with families, they may be in a position to recognize signs that a girl is at risk of or has undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). Here are some indicators that educators can watch for:1,2,3
- If families mention plans to travel for an extended period, ask about their itinerary and destination.1,2,3
- Be alert to any discussions about celebrations or ceremonies that involve young girls.1,2,3
- If you hear any mention of “circumcision” or other terms related to FGM, you are a mandatory reporter and must contact child protection services immediately.1,2,3
Reporting suspicions: If a child care worker suspects that a child is at risk of or has undergone FGM, they should report their concerns to the appropriate authorities. In Australia, this may include child protection services or the police.1,2,3
Resources and support: Child care workers can access a range of resources and support services to help them understand and respond to FGM. In Australia, the Australian Government’s Department of Health and the Australian Human Rights Commission both provide information and resources on FGM.
It is important for child care workers to remember that preventing FGM requires a collaborative effort from all sectors of society. By working together, we can help to protect girls and women from this harmful practice.
Girls are in danger if their families originate from countries known to practice FGM.
If you are concerned please contact the police or child protection. Early childhood educators are mandatory reporters for any form of child abuse.
Child protection in Victoria after hours number to call is: 131278
To notify child protection in Tasmania call
1300 737 639
Dept of Communities, Child Safety and Disabilities
1800 177 135 or (07) 3235 9999
South Australian Child Abuse contact Child Abuse Report Line on 131 478
The NSW Child Protection Helpline on
132 111 (TTY 1800 212 936)
for the cost of a local call, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
West Australia Department of Child Protection and Family support call (08) 9222 2555 (Business Hours)
after hours, please contact Crisis Care:
Telephone: (08) 9223 1111
Country free call: 1800 199 008
Northern Territory Dept of Children and Families 24 hour toll free number
1800 700 250