Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?

Female Genital Mutilation (also known as Female genital cutting and female circumcision) comprises all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

An estimated 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK each year, and around 74,000 women in the UK have undergone the procedure.

FGM is usually carried out on young girls before puberty often by people with no medical training and without anaesthetics and antiseptic. Instruments used include knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades and girls may be forcibly restrained.

Why is FGM practiced?

FGM is carried out for cultural, religious and social reasons. Some families and communities consider it a crucial rite of passage to adulthood and marriage. Some people believe it will reduce a woman's libido and discourage sexual activity before marriage. Many societies also believe that if females are not circumsised, they will be ineligible to marry.

What are the types of FGM?

FGM is classified into four major types:

  1. Type 1 is the Clitoridectomy which is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and, in rare cases, the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
  2. Type 2 is Excision which is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are the ‘lips’ that surround the vagina).  Type I and II account for 75% of all worldwide procedures.
  3. Infibulation which is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal.  The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, and sometimes outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.  Type III accounts for 25% of all worldwide procedure and is the most severe form of FGM.
  4. All other types of harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

Where is FGM practiced?

FGM is practised around the world in various forms across all major faiths.  It is estimated that about three million girls, most of them under 15 years of age, undergo the procedure every year.  The majority of FGM takes place in 29 African and Middle Eastern countries. Nevertheless, FGM is still being practiced in industrialised nations such as Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

Is FGM legal in the UK?

No, FGM has been a criminal offence in the UK since the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 which was further amended by the Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2003.  This makes it unlawful for UK nationals or residents of the UK to carry out FGM, or to aid or abet, counsel or procure the carrying out of FGM in the UK or abroad, even in countries where FGM is legal.

FGM constitutes child abuse and causes physical, psychological and sexual harm which can be severely disabling and the penalty for FGM is up to 14 years imprisonment.

Health risks and complications of FGM  

There are NO health benefits to FGM.

Immediate health risks include severe pain, bleeding, infection, tetanus, bacterial or viral infections, such as hepatitis and HIV, abscesses, and death.

Long term complications include psychosocial trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, lack of trust in carers, vaginal closure due to scarring, cysts, menstrual difficulties, abnormal periods, unitary tract infections, painful intercourse, infertility, prolonged or obstructed labour, death of infant and mother.        

Can FGM be reversed?

Some specialist NHS clinics offer a range of healthcare services for women and girls who have been subjected to FGM, including reversal surgery. In some areas women can attend without referral, but in other areas a GP referral letter is required.

What you can do?

If you are worried about someone who is at risk of FGM or has had FGM, you must share this information with social care or the police. It is then their responsibility to investigate and protect any girls or women involved.