Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured, altered or removed for non-medical reasons.
The procedure is also known as ‘cutting’ or ‘female circumcision’ or by more traditional terms such as 'sunna', 'pharaonic', 'gudniin', 'halalays' and 'megrez' among others.
- FGM is illegal in the UK and is child abuse.
FGM usually happens to girls and teenagers who have personal or family roots in a country or community that carries out FGM; and/or if their mother, grandmother or other family relatives have undergone FGM themselves.
FGM is mostly carried out on young females sometime between infancy and age 15 years, and occasionally on adult women.
Where is FGM carried out?
It is common for a girl or teenager to travel to her family’s country of origin to undergo FGM. However, it is important to be aware that FGM could potentially be carried out in any travel destination; even in the UK - particularly if a female family elder is visiting from the family’s country of origin.
- The summer school holidays, often referred to colloquially as the ‘cutting season’, is a common time for FGM to be performed so that healing can occur before the girl returns to school.
- The UK Border Force are trained to closely monitor people travelling on flights to FGM risk destinations during this period.
Why is FGM carried out?
FGM is carried out for various cultural, religious, or social reasons. Some families and communities believe that FGM will benefit a girl in some way, for example to prepare her for marriage or childbirth, or protect her virginity.
However, FGM is definitely harmful, it is not a requirement of any religion, and it confers no health benefits.
FGM and the Law
FGM is child abuse. It is against the law in the UK to:
- perform FGM in the UK
- assist or arrange for anyone to carry out FGM abroad on girls who are British nationals, or who are resident in the UK
- assist a girl to carry out FGM on herself
- fail to protect a child you are responsible for from FGM
If you perform FGM, help to perform FGM, or fail to protect a child from FGM, you could face up to 14 years in prison.
There are 4 main types of FGM:
- Type 1 (clitoridectomy) – removing part or all of the clitoris
- Type 2 (excision) – removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia (lips that surround the vagina), and sometimes including removal of the labia majora (the larger outer lips)
- Type 3 (infibulation) – narrowing the opening to the vagina by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia (lips)
- Type 4 Other harmful procedures to the female genitals, such as pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping or burning the area
FGM is commonly performed by someone without any medical training; without the use of anaesthetic or antiseptic and by using sharp instruments such as razor blades or broken glass.
- It often happens without the consent of the person undergoing the procedure, and girls may have to be forcibly restrained.
- It is painful, mutilating, and can seriously harm the health of women and girls.
Effects of FGM
FGM has no health benefits. It interferes with the natural functions of the female body and harms girls and women in many ways causing:
- Severe pain
- Bleeding, cysts and abscesses
- Frequent infections which can sometimes cause infertility (inability to become pregnant)
- Problems with going to the toilet (peeing)
- Pain and / or difficulty in having sex
- Problems in pregnancy and childbirth
- Psychological trauma causing anxiety, depression, flashbacks or leading to self-harm
- Difficulties with relationships, including with parents/guardians or with sexual partners
- In serious cases, death can occur from blood loss or infection caused by the procedure itself
- A female relative, such as a mother, sister or aunt has undergone FGM
- A relative or someone with a known reputation as a 'cutter' is visiting from abroad
- A family are planning a long overseas holiday or visit to family abroad
- A girl might:
- talk about having had or about to undergo a special ‘ceremony’
- be absent from school unexpectedly, or for a long period of time
- become withdrawn, or is struggling to keep up in school
- spend longer than usual in the bathroom or toilet
- appear uncomfortable when sitting, walking or standing
If you, or someone you know, is at risk of FGM, or has undergone FGM then help is available.
- You can report this to the police by dialling 101, or by dialling 999 if you or someone else is in immediate danger.
- You can call the NSPCC free, anonymous dedicated FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- You can speak to your GP, health visitor or another healthcare professional if you are under pressure to have FGM performed on yourself or your daughter, or you can call the NSPCC helpline on 0800 028 3550.
- If you have undergone FGM, you can get help and support from an FGM specialist doctor or nurse; speak to your GP, midwife or any other healthcare professional to get referred to FGM services in your area.
If you do not wish to seek help or support directly, you can contact any of the FGM advocacy groups listed below for advice.
Petals app: for young people living in the UK who want to find out more about FGM and how it might affect them and others they may know.
FGM advocacy/awareness websites
UK government statements opposing FGM
These leaflets help to explain the law around FGM and the reasons for that law being in existence, and are available in multiple languages: