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Safeguarding: Honour Based Abuse

So-called 'Honour Based Abuse'

So-called ‘honour-based’ abuse (HBA) is abuse and encompasses crimes which have been committed to protect or defend the honour of the family and/or community, including:

  • Forced marriage (FM)
  • Female genital mutilation (FGM)
  • Other practices such as breast ironing.

Due to their own cultural upbringing and beliefs, perpetrators of HBA may not recognise these situations as abusive and believe that they are doing what is ‘right’ or ‘best’ for their child; for example, they may believe it is essential for a girl to undergo FGM to get married or that ‘breast flattening’ will protect them from unwanted sexual advances. Abuse committed in the context of preserving ‘honour’ often involves a wider network of family or community pressure and can include multiple perpetrators. It is important to be aware of this dynamic and additional risk factors when deciding what form of safeguarding action to take.

Regardless of the motivation, all forms of HBA are abuse (regardless of the motivation) and should be handled and escalated as such. It is our responsibility as childcare professionals to put the welfare and protection of the child first; do not let personal relationships, assumptions or cultural beliefs prevent you from acting. If you have concerns that a child or young person is at risk of HBA, or already having suffered HBA, you can contact the Education Safeguarding Service for support and advice.

Forced Marriage

Forced marriage is: a marriage conducted without valid consent of one or both parties, and where violence, threats or other forms of coercion is used.

  • Threats can be emotional, psychological and financial
  • Lack of consent can be where someone lacks the mental capacity to consent (e.g. if they have learning difficulties)
  • Taking someone overseas to force them to marry is also an offence (whether the marriage takes place or not).

Designated Safeguarding Leads should consider their responsibility as a professional to safeguard the wider community and be aware of vulnerable older siblings and parents who may be at risk or may have been brought into the country as a result of FM.

For more information and support:

Female Genital Mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a form of child abuse with long-lasting, harmful consequences; it comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons and is illegal in the UK. 

A girl may be at increased risk of FGM if:

  • One or both of her parents come from a community affected by FGM
  • She is born to a woman, or has an older sibling, who has undergone FGM
  • Her family members consider FGM integral to their cultural identity
  • There is a strong influence from elders in the upbringing of female children
  • Her family has limited level of integration within UK community.

Signs that a girl could be at immediate risk of FGM include:

  • References to FGM in conversation with other children
  • Confiding that she is to have a 'special procedure' or to attend a special occasion to 'become a woman'
  • Requesting help from an adult because she is aware or suspects that she is at immediate risk
  • Travel plans abroad to a country with high prevalence of FGM
  • Female family elders visiting from a country of origin, or taking a more active/influential role in the family.

A girl may have already been subjected to FGM if she:

  • Has a sudden, noticeable change in behaviour
  • Needs frequent and prolonged toilet breaks
  • Has difficulty in sitting down comfortably
  • Complains about pains between their legs
  • Returns from an extended holiday, but won't tell you about it
  • Tells you about something they are not allowed to talk about.

It will be rare for education staff to see visual evidence of FGM, except in cases where intimate care is being provided for example with very young children and/or children with SEND. Educational professionals should not be examining children and are not medically qualified to do so.

Section 5B of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 (as inserted by section 74 of the Serious Crime Act 2015) places a statutory duty upon teachers, along with regulated health and social care professionals in England and Wales, to personally report to the police where they discover (either through disclosure by the victim or visual evidence) that FGM appears to have been carried out on a girl under 18. Those failing to report such cases may face disciplinary sanctions. Information on when and how to make a mandatory report can be found at: Mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation procedural information and via the FGM mandatory reporting duty factsheet.

If you suspect or believe that a child may have suffered FGM, follow your usual safeguarding procedures - the Police and local Children’s Social Care should be informed urgently and in accordance with the mandatory reporting duty.