Female Genital Mutilation
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines female genital mutilation as comprising all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
The WHO has classified FGM into four different types.
Type I – Clitoridectomy
Partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and/or the prepuce (the clitoral hood or fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
Type II – Excision
Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the inner labia, with or without excision of the outer labia (the labia are the ‘lips’ that surround the vagina).
Type III – Infibulation
Narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner or outer labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
Type IV – Other
All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, eg, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising (burning) the genital area.
Health implications of FGM
- Severe pain and shock
- Broken limbs from being held down
- Injury to adjacent tissues
- Urine retention
- Increased risk of HIV and AIDS
- Uterus, vaginal and pelvic infections
- Cysts and neuromas
- Increased risk of fistula
- Complications in childbirth
- Depression and post-natal depression
- Psychosexual problems
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Sexual dysfunction
- Difficulties in menstruation
- Trauma and flashbacks
Watch Lucy’s Story as she talks about her experience of FGM in Cameroon and the impact it had on her life.
“Justifications” for FGM
Many affected communities believe that FGM is a necessary custom to ensure that a girl is accepted within the community and eligible for marriage.
Families who practice FGM on girls usually see it as a way of safeguarding their future.
Other reasons include:
- Perceived health benefits
- Preservation of the girl’s virginity
- Rite of passage into woman-hood
- Status in the community
- Protection of family honour
- Perceived religious justifications There are no religions that advocate for FGM.
“girls who had not been circumcised were perceived in practising communities as less honourable ‘easy-goers’, to be insulted and shunned. In some instances, this can even go so far as people refusing to eat food that has been prepared by an uncircumcised girl/woman, and curses being put upon the girl and her whole family.” (Between Two Cultures, 2016)
The Law and FGM
FGM Act 2003:
A person is guilty of an offence if they excise, infibulate or otherwise mutilate the whole or any part of a girl’s or woman’s labia majora, labia minora or clitoris for non-medical reasons.
It is illegal to perform/arrange for FGM to be carried out on a girl in the UK or to take a girl abroad.
Section 70(1) of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (“the 2015 Act”) amends section 4 of the FGM Act 2003:
- to extend the extra-territorial powers of the law to further protect victims of FGM.
- It also introduces victim anonymity to victims of FGM similar to that of victims of sexual exploitation.
- The Serious Crime Act introduces civil measures to protect girls or women who have suffered or are believed to be at risk from FGM. Click here to find out more about Protection Orders.
- It also introduces a mandatory reporting duty to report known cases of FGM that applies to all regulated professionals.
- The law covers all habitual residence of the UK and British Citizens.
- New offence of failing to protect a girl from FGM. This will mean that if an offence of FGM is committed against a girl under the age of 16, each person who is responsible for the girl at the time of FGM occurred will be liable under this new offence. The maximum penalty for the new offence is seven years’ imprisonment or a fine or both.
Signs that a girl could be at risk of FGM
- A girl is born to a woman who has undergone FGM
- Mother has requested re-infibulation following childbirth
- A girl has an older sibling or cousin who has undergone FGM
- One or both parents or elder family members consider FGM integral to their cultural or religious identity
- The family indicate that there are strong levels of influence held by pro-FGM elders who are involved in bringing up female children
- A girl/family has limited level of integration within UK community
- A girl from a practising community is withdrawn from PSHE and/or Sex and Relationship Education or its equivalent may be at risk as a result of her parents wishing to keep her uninformed about her body, FGM and her rights
- If there are references to FGM in conversation, for example a girl may tell other children about it
- A girl may confide that she is to have a ‘special procedure’ or to attend a special occasion to ‘become a woman’
- A girl may request help from a teacher or another adult if she is aware or suspects that she is at immediate risk
- Parents state that they or a relative will take the child out of the country for a prolonged period and are evasive about why.
- A girl is taken abroad to a country with high prevalence of FGM, especially during the summer holidays which is known as the ‘cutting season’
Signs that FGM has occurred
- Prolonged absence from schools
- Frequent need to go to the toilet
- Long break to urinate
- Urinary tract infections
- Noticeable behaviour change
- Change of dress from tight to loose fitting clothing
- Menstrual problems
- Difficulty in sitting down comfortably
- Complain about pain between their legs
- Talk of something somebody did to them that they are not allowed to talk about
What to do if you are worried
If a girl (under 18) has disclosed she has undergone FGM or you have visually identified FGM, and you are a regulated professional, you will need to call the police on 101 as part of your mandatory reporting duty.
If you are concerned that a girl is at risk of FGM, a referral must be made to the local children’s services team.
If you are concerned that the girl is in immediate danger, contact the police by calling 999.
You should also contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office if the girl has been taken abroad:
- telephone: 020 7008 1500
- from overseas: +44 (0)20 7008 1500
For information that is helpful to provide when making a referral, you may find our Good Referral Guide (see below image) helpful.
Key Guidance and Resources
- FGM Global Prevalence Map – Click Here
- Good Referral Guide – Click Here
- FGM Assessment Tool for Social Workers- Click Here
- FGM Local Terminology – Click Here
- Leaflet on FGM – Click Here
- Multi-Agency Statutory Guidance on FGM – Click Here
- Mandatory Reporting Guidance – Click Here
- FGM: Guidance for Healthcare Staff + Risk Assessment – Click Here
More guidance, resources and reports on FGM can be found on our searchable Knowledge Hub.