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Female Genital Mutilation


What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?

FGM includes all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

There are four types of FGM:

  • Type I (clitoridectomy): partial or total removal of the clitoris, and in very rare cases, removal only of the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris);
  • Type II (excision): partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora, with or without the excision of the labia majora;
  • Type III (infibulation): narrowing of the vaginal opening by cutting and bringing together the labia minora and/or the labia majora to create a seal, with or without the removal of the clitoris. In most cases, the cut edges of the labia are stitched together leaving only a small opening for passing urine and menstrual blood. Infibulations have to be opened (defibulation) in later life to enable penetration during sexual intercourse and for childbirth. In some countries, this is usually followed by reinfibulation. A woman could undergo repeated deinfibulation and reinfibulation;
  • Type IV (other): all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising the genital area.

FGM is known by a number of names, including ‘female genital cutting’, ‘female circumcision’ or ‘initiation’. Some communities use local names for this practice, including the term ‘sunna’. FORWARD UK has a list of traditional and local terms for FGM.

The practice has no health benefits. On the contrary, it is harmful to girls and women in many ways. Immediate consequences of a girl undergoing FGM include severe pain, haemorrhage, infections, or even death. Long-term consequences include chronic pelvic or urinary infections, complications in pregnancy or death of the mother and child during childbirth.

Who is at risk of FGM?

FGM is a deeply-rooted tradition, practised widely among specific ethnic populations in Africa and parts of the Middle East and Asia. It serves as a complex form of social control of women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

UK communities most at risk of FGM include Kenyan, Somali, Sudanese, Sierra Leonean, Egyptian, Nigerian and Eritrean. Other communities that practice FGM include Yemeni, Afghani, Kurdish, Indonesian and Pakistani.

Because it is a hidden practice, it is difficult to estimate the prevalence of FGM in the UK. FORWARD UK research published in 2007 estimated that over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 in the UK are at risk of FGM each year and about 16,000 girls under the age of 15 are at high risk of Type III FGM and over 5,000 are at high risk of Type I or Type II FGM. Girls between the ages of 5 and 8 are particularly at risk, although even babies may be subjected to FGM.

It is also estimated that about 60,000 girls aged 0-14 were born in England and Wales to mothers who had undergone FGM and about 127,000 women over the age of 15 who have migrated to England and Wales are living with the consequences of FGM.

What does the law say?

FGM is illegal in the UK.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the practice is illegal under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, and in Scotland it is illegal under the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005.

The law makes it an offence for anyone, regardless of their nationality or residence status, to perform or assist anyone to carry our FGM in the UK, unless it is necessary on physical and mental health grounds. It is an offence to assist a girl to perform FGM on herself or to assist from the UK a non-UK person to carry out FGM outside the UK on a UK national or permanent UK resident.

It is also an offence for any UK national or permanent UK resident to perform FGM on any person overseas, even in countries where FGM is not a criminal offence. The law covers taking a girl abroad to be subjected to FGM or to assist the girl to perform FGM on herself while abroad.

What should you do if you are concerned that a girl has been subjected to FGM or may be at risk?

FGM is considered child abuse in the UK and a violation of the child’s right to life and their bodily integrity.

All professionals suspecting that a child has been the victim of or at risk of FGM must follow the Pan-Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures and refer the child to Children’s Social Care immediately.