Since Thursday, February 4th, the Child and Youth Protection Commissions (CPCJ) have created a revised manual with procedures for suspected cases of genital circumcision in girls and adolescents. The Guide to Active Prevention and Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation, published five years ago, now brings with it more practical aspects, with contributions from some CPCJs, “So that all commissions, including those more distant in contact with this reality, should you come around Having a case, you know how to act in a more agile, practical and simple way, ”explains the President of the National Commission for the Promotion of the Rights and Protection of Children and Young People (CNPDPCJ), Rosário Farmhouse, of the PUBLIC.
Today, February 6th marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). It is a pattern that girls and women are exposed to in several countries around the world – more than 6500 women live in Portugal who are subjected to this practice – in the context of traditional customs. Although FGM is a reality for many municipalities in Portugal, it is estimated that there is a risk that around 1,800 girls under the age of 15 will be cut. The number of cases reaching CPCJ is “minimal,” notes the President of the National Commission. Between 2015 and 2019, 20 promotion and protection procedures were opened as there is a risk of girls being exposed to the practice, nine of them in 2019. “In 2020 we had no identified cases that the protection commissions of children and adolescents had identified” says Farmhouse.
It is important to note that the opening of a promotion and protection process by the CPCJ does not mean that FGM has occurred. Sometimes it is known at school or in the health center that the family is planning a trip to the country of origin, on vacation, to “have a big party” or “introduce the girl to the grandparents”. It is then time to speak to the parents, understand if the practice is a family tradition, remember the implications for the child’s health, and involve the CPCJ to develop a follow-up plan.
As is usual in other risk situations determined by the commissions, so-called “measures in the natural living environment” are always privileged to keep the child close to the parents or, if possible, in the family home – so there is no danger to the child’s life. So far, of the cases reported to the national commission, only one action has been taken to remove the child from the family. The situation that became new happened in Seixal in 2019, when two girls – a newborn baby and a two-year-old sister – were removed from the family after the mother allegedly told the nurses that she was going to travel to Guinea soon-Bissau to submit the daughters to tradition (which did not happen). “As far as we know, there was no similar case,” says Rosário Farmhouse.
In addition to providing more practical guidance on how to respond to “risk situations, hazards or the occurrence of FGM”, including a case study, the manual produced by the CNPDPCJ technical team also includes a communication flow diagram of potential cases, distinguishing the situations in which it is necessary to Calling the public ministry – namely if there is evidence of crime or if it is not possible to cooperate with the parents. The manual is available on the CNPDPCJ website.
Take care of girls
The psychologist Cláudia Tinoca knows that knowing the phenomenon in contact with children can be of crucial importance. She was president of the CPCJ de Odivelas for a few months, but previously she was involved as a city council technician in the work carried out on the territory to combat harmful traditional practices, including the organization of the last regional meetings for an integrated intervention towards the end of FGM, an initiative of the municipalities in the greater Lisbon area. In a conversation with PÚBLICO he emphasized: “There is no magic formula for all cases”. For Cláudia Tinoca it is crucial that the CPCJ is seen by the girls as a place where they are cared for. He recognizes the “existential dilemma” of a girl who, fearing that she might harm her parents, is reluctant to seek help in escaping the tradition of her family. A fear that could be greater given the recent conviction of a young mother who tried the crime for the first time in Portugal. It is therefore important to invest in prevention to protect girls before they undergo the practice. “It’s important that parents work with us,” he adds.
It is also important that professionals pay attention to these signs, and therefore prevention awareness in schools requires training. Odivelas is one of the areas of the Lisbon and Tagus Valley region where, since 2018, the “Healthy Practices” project, coordinated by the Commission on Citizenship and Gender Equality (CIG), the High Commission on Migration (ACM) and the regional Lisbon and Vale do Tejo Health Administration (ARS-LVT), which has trained hundreds of health professionals, including school nurses. However, the pandemic hampered the next step, which is efforts to train education professionals such as teachers, educators and assistants for educational activities.
As in so many areas, the past year was “very challenging” for child and youth protection commissions, as many of the agencies in charge of childhood and youth were “restricted for most of the year and the main ones were communicators of dangerous situations,” says Rosário Farmhouse. With children away from professionals such as teachers and early childhood educators, there was concern about developing new channels for communicating risky or dangerous situations – such as the Children at Risk line, which received nearly 600 calls, and the online one – Lead form he had “almost 800” communication in six months – which resulted in more knowledge about what was happening to the children at home. “We were faced with closed parenting situations at home where the children were out of contact with any of the entities and may experience situations of violence,” he explains.
Still with no concrete figures for 2020, “domestic violence was one of the types that has noticeably increased, as has school dropouts,” warns Farmhouse. In 2020 there were no open processes among the processes notified to the national commission due to the risk of FGM, but the figures from the previous year show the importance of training commissions, especially in areas outside the greater Lisbon area (where there is already a more articulated network) . Of the nine promotion and protection processes opened in 2019, three took place in the Porto district.
“They are more invisible practices, but they are very ingrained in some cultures,” notes Rosário Farmhouse. “Since it is not a religious practice, it is actually a cultural practice that serves as a prerequisite for marriage and as a matter of identity,” explains the President of the CNPDPCJ, who served as the High Commissioner for Immigration and Intercultural Affairs between 2008 and 2014 Dialog (current High Commissioner for Migration) was active. Many women who have been excised do the same to their daughters because they see it as the only way to guarantee them a future within the community. “You need to help understand that there are other ways to be part of the community without getting hurt. But it takes a long time, doesn’t it? “