CHILDREN’S safeguarding chiefs have been accused of burying their heads in the sand and ignoring child-safety issues.
Despite research carried out by City University in London, estimating around 1,100 women in Slough have been victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) at one point in their life, Slough Borough Council and the chair of Slough Local Safeguarding Children’s Board (SLSCB) say there is no suggestion this is taking place in the borough – a response that has been described as ‘appalling’ by FGM campaigners.
With Slough being home to one of the highest numbers of women experiencing FGM in the UK outside of London, Phil Picton, independent chair of SLSCB, admitted there is an FGM issue, during a Slough Wellbeing Board meeting discussing the LSCB annual report, on Wednesday evening.
However Ruth Bagley, chief executive of Slough Borough Council, reported that the council’s understanding is that the women suffered the procedure before coming to this country.
Mr Picton agreed “there is no suggestion they are subjected to FGM in Slough” or that women from the town are taken out of the country for the procedure.
Rani Bilkhu, leading advocate for women and young people and founder of Jeena International, says the partners are "burying their heads in the sand" labelling their attitude as "very dangerous".
She said: "If the government didn’t deem it an issue why has it brought in mandatory reporting and making sure we are looking for indicators?
"If you have the attitude of ‘it’s not happening in my back yard’ how are we going to help girls who are vulnerable?"
"You cannot be complacent, you cannot say it’s not happening."
Dr Pheobe Abe, FGM campaigner, explained the daughters of the women who are cut before they arrive in the UK are very much at risk.
She said: “It is totally ignorant.
“There are so many Somalian women that live in Slough and some of these women still don’t know it’s illegal in the UK.
“GPs need to start identifying all the women that are cut and educating them. These women are happy to talk about it if they are asked but doctors are not willing to talk to these women.”
Cllr Diana Coad, UKIP party leader for Slough, said: “Three years ago I put forward a motion and the council agreed to actively fight FGM. They are not actively fighting it, they are doing nothing.”
Mr Picton went on to say that it is a really difficult issue and although it is an area that needs more awareness, there is no evidence to suggest it is taking place in the town.
He said: “It’s about guarding against possible risk.”
From October, healthcare professionals and teachers are now legally required to report cases of FGM to the police.
The new Slough Children’s Services Trust is also a partner of the SLSCB and will be assessing the report.There is no mention in the report of the risks vulnerable children may face with regards to forced marriage.