Harmful Cultural Practices
The London Safeguarding Children Board has developed practice guidance linked to faith or culture, providing guidance for professionals on how to promote and protect the welfare of children living in circumstances which appear to be complex because of their faith and culture.
Harmful practices include FGM (female genital mutilation), so-called honour based violence, forced marriage, male circumcision, breast ironing and belief in spirit possession and witchcraft.
Children and young people can be at risk of significant harm (including of death) and any referrals should be made to MASH citing the harmful cultural practice that the child or young person is at risk of. As with all child abuse concerns, if you think a child is in immediate danger, always call 999.
Honour Based Violence
So called “honour crime”, “honour-based violence” or “izzat” (mainly a South Asian term) embrace a variety of crimes of violence mainly perpetrated towards girls and women, including assault, imprisonment and murder where the person is being punished by their family or their community. The family or community are punishing them for undermining what they believe to be the correct code of behaviour.
Failure to adhere to the correct code of behaviour is an indicator to the family that the person cannot be controlled to conform and this brings “shame” to the family.
“Honour-based violence” usually occurs with some degree of approval by family and/ community members and it has an international dimension as victims can be taken overseas where the violence is then perpetrated. It can also be a trigger for a forced marriage.
Honour based violence cuts across all cultures and communities, and cases encountered in the UK have involved families from Turkish, Kurdish, Afghani, South Asian, African, Middle Eastern, South and Eastern European communities. This is not an exhaustive list.
Female Genital Mutilation
FGM is an illegal, extremely harmful practice and a form of child abuse and violence against women and girls, and therefore should be dealt with as part of existing child and adult safeguarding / protection structures, policies and procedures.
The Bromley FGM Guidance below sets out processes for identification, referral and follow up support to provide women and girls with an appropriate joined up response.
Hundreds of people in the UK (particularly girls and young women), some as young as nine, are forced into marriage each year. A 'forced' marriage, as distinct from a consensual 'arranged' one, is a marriage conducted without the full consent of both parties and where duress is a factor. Duress cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds.
In 2004, the Government's definition of domestic violence was extended to include acts perpetrated by extended family members as well as intimate partners. Consequently, acts such as forced marriage and so-called 'honour crimes' (which can include abduction and homicide) now come under the definition of domestic violence.
The majority of forced marriages reported to date in the UK have involved families from South Asia; other communities in which there have been cases include Europe, East Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Some forced marriages take place in the UK with no overseas element, while others involve a partner coming from overseas or a British national being taken abroad.
Professionals should respond in a similar way to forced marriage as with domestic violence and honour based violence (i.e. in facilitating disclosure, developing individual safety plans, ensuring the child's safety by according them confidentiality in relation to the rest of the family, completing individual risk assessments etc). See Safeguarding children affected by domestic abuse and violence Procedure and Honour based violence Procedure.
Male circumcision that is performed for any reason other than physical clinical need is termed non-therapeutic circumcision. The British Association of Paediatric Surgeons advises that there is rarely a clinical indication for circumcision. Doctors should be aware of this and reassure parents accordingly. Doctors / health professionals should ensure that any parents seeking circumcision for their son in the belief that it confers health benefits are fully informed that there is a lack of professional consensus as to current evidence demonstrating any benefits. The risks / benefits to the child must be fully explained to the parents and to the young man himself if he has the maturity to make his own decisions and understand the implications of those decisions (Fraser Guidelines/ Gillick competency).
The medical harms or benefits have not been unequivocally proven except to the extent that there are clear risks of harm if the procedure is done inexpertly.
The legal position on male circumcision is untested and therefore remains unclear. Professionals should be guided by the London Child Protection Procedures Part B Practice guidance on male circumcision.
Belief in spirit possession or witchcraft
This harmful cultural practice is where parents, families and often the child themselves believe that an evil force has entered a child and is controlling them; the belief includes the child being able to use the evil force to harm others. This evil is variously known as black magic, kindoki, ndoki, the evil eye, djinns, voodoo, obeah. Children are called witches or sorcerers.
Parents can be initiated into and / or supported in the belief that their child is possessed by an evil spirit by a privately contacted spiritualist / indigenous healer or by a local community faith leader. The task of exorcism or deliverance is often undertaken by a faith leader, or by the parents or other family members.
Forms of abuse can include physical, sexual, emotional and/or neglect. In addition, significant harm may occur when an attempt is made or ‘exorcise; or ‘deliver’ the evil spirit from the child.
The London Child Protection Procedures Practice Guidance on spiritual, cultural and religious beliefs should be followed. The London Safeguarding Children Board website also has information in the section Resources about Culture and Faith.
Current guidelines for praying for children and engaging with them in a faith context are available in the 'Staying Safe and Secure' booklet, available at: www.ccpas.co.uk, produced by the Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) and the Metropolitan Police. Whilst the booklet is specifically for Christian communities, the principles it sets out for safeguarding children are the same across all faith communities and can be adapted accordingly.