Teachers and doctors will be under a legal duty to report if young girls in their care could be sent abroad and forced to marry under new rules, David Cameron announced yesterday.
They could be struck off or disciplined if they fail to tell the authorities about children being spirited abroad and made to marry strangers, or if they ignore concerns a girl may be subject to female genital mutilation.
Parents could be prosecuted if they fail to prevent their daughters being subjected to genital mutilation.
British Prime Minister David Cameron (left) speaks with campaigners against female genital mutilation at the ‘Girl Summit 2014’ in Walworth Academy
The PM said schools had, in the past, been guilty of ‘turning a blind eye’ to the need to protect children at risk.
And he said he wanted his daughters to be able to grow up in a world where the practices were outlawed.
The PM made his comments as he addressed a major international conference in south London on combatting forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
He told the conference: ‘I am a dad with three children – two girls and a boy – and I want my girls to grow up with every opportunity that my son has, with no disadvantage, with the chance to make everything my girls can with their lives.
Delegates listen to the speeches at the ‘Girl Summit 2014’ in Walworth Academy
‘There are so many things when it comes to equality that we need to address whether it is equal pay or equal rights or equal opportunities including in political life but what seems to me what is so important about these issues is that they are absolutely standing rebuke to our world that they still exist.’
He added: ‘I’ve told you about my children. So my daughter – my eldest daughter is 10; not that much younger than some of the children who get pushed into childhood or early marriage; not that much younger than girls who get cut and have their lives, in so many ways, taken away from them.
‘And this really is about the world that we want children like my daughter to grow up in. Is it going to be a world where we recognise that these practices are unacceptable, but instead of just saying that, instead of just signing declarations, instead of just passing laws, we actually commit to do everything we can, in our own countries and globally, to outlaw these practices forever.’
The PM – who had already passed a law making forced marriage a specific criminal offence, also said he wanted schools to do more to warn and protect children from danger.
Children are vulnerable in schools, he said, which ‘haven’t necessarily understood that these practices are going on and they have turned a blind eye.’
As well as the new rules for parents, teachers and doctors, victims of FGM will be given lifelong anonymity the moment an allegation is made.
Mr Cameron told schools to stop being ‘coy’ about offending cultural sensitivities, and described how some girls were ‘disappearing off the school roll’ and ‘not coming back after the school holidays’.
He added: ‘You read far too many stories about girls being taken on holiday to Turkey, to Pakistan and to India and not coming back and we need to get over that by advertising properly in schools.’
Justice minister Simon Hughes said schools used to be nervous that challenging communitites on issues of FGM or forced marriage amounted to “tresspassing on a cultural space that was inappropriate” but that had changed in recent years.
‘It is no longer culturally embarrassing in this country challenge people’s beliefs and practices,’ he said.