The dangers of FGM (female genital mutilation) should be taught to children in primary schools, campaigners are urging.
Under new government guidelines announced in February, secondary school pupils in England will be taught about FGM as part of their relationships and sex education curriculum from 2020.
These lessons will address the physical and emotional damage caused by FGM, as well as making pupils aware of support services available for survivors.
Lessons will also impress on pupils that FGM is illegal in the UK. Earlier this year, a 37-year-old mother-of-three from east London became the first person in the UK to be found guilty of FGM.
However, the National FGM Centre – a joint initiative between children's charity Barnardo's and the Local Government Association – has today said that children should be made aware of FGM at a younger age.
Statistics released last year by NHS Digital suggest that the most common age range at which FGM takes place is when a girl is between 5 and 9 years old. Just under 45 percent of recorded cases of FGM in England in 2016-17 were carried out on girls in this age range.
"While some may have reservations about children being taught about this issue at primary school, the work of the National FGM Centre has shown this can be done in a child-centred, age-appropriate way," Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre, said in a press statement.
"By teaching primary school pupils about FGM, we are empowering the next generation to speak up about the issue. But it's not just down to the next generation to break the silence. Everyone, regardless of their community, gender or profession must be part of this conversation, so FGM becomes less of a hidden crime."
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said in response that while FGM education isn't compulsory in primary schools, these schools "can choose to teach it if they think it is appropriate for their cohort of pupils, and provided it's taught in an age-appropriate way."
The National FGM Centre, which also campaigns against breast ironing, an even more hidden form of gender-based violence, has said that its mission is to end new cases of FGM in the UK by 2030.