What are the signs that a child has undergone FGM/C?
There are no definitive signs that a child has undergone FGM/C. Some signs you can look out for include frequent trips to the restroom, long unexplained absences, isolation from friends, and other behavioral changes that are similar to what you would see in a victim of abuse. Please keep in mind that children at risk of FGM/C or who have undergone FGM/C may likely come from loving homes. In most cases, there are no signs of neglect or abuse in the home.
As FGM/C is more commonly done between birth and 15 years of age, it’s important to consider the different ways signs may present across age groups.1 For example, young children may not recognize the harm, despite physical pains, if the practice was explained as a cultural norm. Some children may isolate, some may be vocal if they recall the experience, and some may not remember the experience at all but they may be experiencing the long-term health effects. Although the signs of a child having undergone FGM/C are broad, it’s helpful to stay informed on the continued harmful practice so that it’s not missed when abuse is suspected.
Please review the physical and mental health effects of FGM/C in other sections of this toolkit.
What if my student has undergone FGM/C?
- The first step is to get help for your student, which may include both physical and mental health support. Refer your student to a social worker, school counselor or nurse. If the student needs gynecological services, have the school nurse or counselor provide a list of doctors who have had experience dealing with FGM/C or are trained in providing trauma-informed care. We recommend that nurses check our Health Care Provider Toolkit for best practices on how to deal with FGM/C symptoms and health consequences. We recognize that schools cannot contact physicians on behalf of the student, or discuss private health information, without the consent of the parents. However, you can share resources with your students so they can access any outside services they need.
- The next step is to contact child protective services (CPS) to report the FGM/C. As a mandated reporter, you are required by law to report it.2 FGM/C is illegal in the U.S. and transporting a child overseas to undergo the mutilation/cutting is also illegal.3 Keep in mind that your student may have a sibling who is also at risk and you should do what you can to protect them from harm.
As of the most recent 2019 amendment to the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), all states in the United States (U.S.) recognize individuals that are required to report suspected child abuse. Please refer to your state's statute here for additional detail on reporting requirements: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/laws-policies/state/
Please take care when dealing with sensitive and heavy topics such as FGM/C. Hearing of student experiences if they have undergone FGM/C may cause secondary traumatic stress (STS). Read more about STS here: https://www.nctsn.org/trauma-informed-care/secondary-traumatic-stress
Please review the infographic resource below on what to do if your student is at risk or has undergone FGM/C.
Page last reviewed: May 11, 2023
Page last updated: May 11, 2023