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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision or female genital cutting, is the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.

FGM has been categorised into 4 types, ranging from a symbolic pricking to the clitoris, to the removal of the clitoris and virginal lips or sealing of the vaginal opening.

It is estimated that across the world between 100 and 140 million women and girls have undergone FGM. Most of the females affected live in 28 African countries with some also from parts of the Middle East and Asia. Due to international migration, the practice has spread to other countries, including the UK.

FGM generally takes place between birth and the age of 14 years. Most often it is conducted between the ages of 5 and 8 years old.

Different communities have different names for FGM:

Chad-the Ngama Bagne
Egypt Thara/Khitan/Khifad
Ethiopia Megrez / Absum
Eritrea Mekhnishab
Gambia Niaka / Kuyango / Musolula Karoola
Guinea-Bissau Fanadu di Mindjer / Fanadu di Oni
Kenya Kutairi / Kutairi was ichana
Nigeria Ibi / Ugwu / Sunna
Sierra Leone Sunna / Bondo / Sonde
Somalia Gudiniin / Halalays / Qodiin
Sudan Khifad / Tahoor

Why is FGM undertaken?

FGM is usually arranged by the girls’ parents or her extended family. Social and cultural reasons are sometimes given as the reason for carrying out FGM. FGM may be seen as a way of protecting family honour, preserving tradition, ensuring a woman’s chastity or being preparation for marriage. It is often seen by the family as an act of love, rather than cruelty. However, FGM is child abuse. It is a violation of the human rights of women and has long term emotional and physical consequences. It has been illegal in the UK for over 30 years.

In some cultures it is believed that the procedure is a religious requirement. However, neither the Bible nor the Koran support this practice. It is not a requirement of Christian or Islamic faith and is not condoned by Christian or Islamic teaching and beliefs.

FGM and the Law

FGM is against the law in the UK. It is also against the law for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to take their child abroad to have FGM. The maximum penalty for committing FGM or aiding the offence is 14 years in prison.

In addition, under the Serious Crime Act 2015, a new offence of ‘failing to protect a girl’ was introduced. This means if FGM is carried out against a girl under the age of 16, each person who was responsible for the girl at the time the FGM occurred will be liable for prosecution under this new offence.

FGM Protection Orders can be used to protect girls at risk of FGM. Breaching an FGM Protection Order is a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment.

Heath implications

FGM is often carried out without anaesthetic and usually by a woman with no formal medical training using a knife or razor.

Short term implications include:

  • Severe pain and shock
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Difficulty going to the toilet due to swelling and pain
  • Infection

Long term risks include

  • Chronic pain
  • Infection, particularly of the reproductive and urinary tracts
  • Abscesses, painful cysts or keloids (excessive scar tissue formed at the site of the cutting)
  • Menstrual (period) problems
  • Difficulties when giving birth and danger to the new born baby
  • Increased risk of HIV infection due to the risk of bleeding during intercourse
  • Psychological consequences such as anxiety, depression, memory loss or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Because FGM is illegal, women and girls who develop health problems after having FGM may avoid hospitals and doctors. However, the health consequences of FGM can be very serious, so it is important that victims seek help from a trained professional.

What can I do if I am worried a child is at risk?

Warning signs may include:

  • Girls and women from practising FGM countries talking about holidays where they will ‘become a woman’ or ‘become just like my mum and sister’.
  • Girls who have had FGM may avoid exercise, ask to go to the toilet more often, find it hard to sit still for long periods or may have further time off school.

If you are worried, you can contact the NSPCC FGM Helpline. It operates 24/7, and is staffed by specially trained counsellors who can offer advice, information, and assistance.
Phone: 0800 028 3550 (free of charge)               Email: fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk

If there is immediate risk or serious harm to a child, then please call the Police on 999.

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