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.

"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
  • cleanliness
  • 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.

Health implications of FGM

Health implications:

  • death
  • 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
  • infertility
  • increased risk of fistula
  • complications in childbirth
  • depression and post-natal depression
  • psychosexual problems
  • pregnancy and child birth
  • sexual dysfunction
  • difficulties in menstruation
  • trauma and flashbacks

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) as her parents wish 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