Belfast Telegraph

Pregnant women screened for illegal genital mutilation by midwives in Northern Ireland

By Lisa Smyth

Nurses in Northern Ireland are now monitoring all pregnant women to establish if they have been the victims of genital mutilation.

An increasing number of women from countries where the barbaric practice is the norm are giving birth here.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed.

It is carried out for cultural rather than medical reasons, usually on young girls between infancy and the beginning of puberty, and is illegal in the UK.

Women who have had the procedure can become dangerously ill during childbirth, so midwives here are now asking all expectant mums whether they are victims of FGM to ensure lifesaving precautions can be put in place.

Their answer is recorded in their medical records and care and advice provided accordingly.

However, the number of women affected by FGM is not recorded centrally by the Department of Health, and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has called on the Government to introduce a system to allow this to happen.

Breedagh Hughes, the director of the RCM in Northern Ireland, said: "It would be helpful for us to ascertain exactly how many women here are victims of FGM so we can decide whether a specific service is required.

"If a doctor has trained in England they are more likely to have come into contact with women affected by FGM than those in Northern Ireland.

"However, we are seeing more women here with FGM, and midwives are now trained to deal with that.

"Women are asked at their antenatal booking appointment whether they have been cut.

"It is important that this is done as early as possible because you don't want a woman coming into the hospital in established labour and finding out this has been done to them.

"It's not something you want to find out at the time of delivery.

"It can lead to a dangerous situation for both mum and baby.

"You might have a midwife encountering something they have never seen before in their life."

Not only do the midwives need to know how to provide proper medical care, but they also offer emotional support to women.

Ms Hughes added: "There are various grades, and if a woman is badly disfigured then she will require a procedure to allow her to be able to give birth.

"Midwives explain to the women and their husbands that they will not be put back the way they were after they give birth.

"It is illegal here, but some women can find that very upsetting, and it may cause difficulties within their families."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said officials were working with the Public Health Agency, examining the possibility of collecting FGM data from patients' maternity records.

Last summer Northern Ireland produced FGM protection orders.

They prevent travel by young girls who are thought to be at risk of being taken abroad to undergo the procedure.

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