Irish public asked to watch for warning signs of female genital mutilation

Procedure, often carried out abroad, considered child abuse in Ireland

Gardaí are appealing to members of the public and those working with children to be aware of signs of female genital mutilation (FGM) amid concerns children are being taken out of the country to have the illegal procedure carried out.

FGM involves the removal of some or all of the external female genitals. It is carried out during childhood and is practised in many countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

In Ireland it has been illegal since 2012 and is considered a form of child abuse, said Det Supt Ian Lackey of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB).

However, it is an extremely difficult crime to prosecute and to date only one case has been brought before the courts. In the UK, only two cases have been prosecuted.


Therefore, the Garda focus is on “prevention and protection through education and awareness”, Det Supt Lackey said.

FGM is “deeply ingrained in many cultures”, he said. Various justifications are used for FGM, including family honour, social acceptance and claims it increases fertility. However, there are no health benefits and it can cause serious medical problems.

Worldwide an estimated 200 million women have undergone FGM. In Ireland, the figure is believed to be around 10,000, although most underwent the practice in their native country before moving to Ireland.

Det Supt Lackey said investigating FGM is a sensitive issue which requires a multiagency approach.

Families who subject their children to the practice “do not do so to cause them harm and are not necessarily harmful or neglectful parents in general”.

Families arriving in Ireland are often unaware it is a crime here, hence the importance of awareness, he said.

He appealed for people to be watchful for signs of FGM, which can include children being unexpectedly withdrawn from school and parents requesting that their children do not learn about the practice.

If the procedure has already been carried out, children might have difficulty sitting or walking, display behavioural changes or request to sit out sports or other activities.

Awareness training for teachers and healthcare workers is ongoing, Det Supt Lackey said. “There’s a big job of work to be done.”

In October, the Garda and other agencies carried out Operation Limelight in Dublin Airport to raise awareness to the law and risks around FGM among travellers and airline and airport staff.

FGM is typically carried out by people flown into Ireland from the parents’ country of origin. Sometimes children are brought back to the home country for the procedure.

The appeal came during a briefing by GNPSB on gender-based violence and domestic abuse. So far this year gardaí have received more than 54,000 domestic abuse complaints, an 8 per cent increase on last year.

Det Supt Sinéad Greene said she believes the increase is down to new legislation and increased awareness of the problem and the supports available.

On prostitution and human trafficking, gardaí said they are using organised crime legislation to target sophisticated international networks which traffic women into the country for sexual exploitation.

The money being made from organised crime groups in this area is “nearly equivalent” to sums made by drugs gangs, Det Supt Derek Maguire said. “It’s in the billions and it’s a huge global problem.”

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Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times