Female genital mutilation (sometimes referred to as female circumcision) refers to procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice is illegal in the UK.
It has been estimated that over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK each year, and that 66,000 women in the UK are living with the consequences of FGM. However, the true extent is unknown due to the ‘hidden’ nature of the crime.
The girls may be taken to their countries of origin so that FGM can be carried out during the summer holidays, allowing them time to ‘heal’ before they return to school. There are also worries that some girls may have FGM performed in the UK.
Forms of mutilation
FGM is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15, most commonly before puberty starts.
The procedure is traditionally carried out by a woman with no medical training. Anaesthetics and antiseptic treatments are not generally used and the practice is usually carried out using knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades. Girls may have to be forcibly restrained.
There are four 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), with or without removal of the labia majora (larger outer lips).
Type 3 – infibulation – narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia.
Other harmful procedures to the female genitals, which include pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping and burning the area.
Effects of FGM
There are no health benefits to FGM. Removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.
wound infections, including tetanus and gangrene, as well as blood-borne viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C
inability to urinate
injury to vulval tissues surrounding the entrance to the vagina
damage to other organs nearby, such as the urethra (where urine passes) and the bowel
FGM can sometimes cause death.
chronic vaginal and pelvic infections
difficulties passing urine and persistent urine infections
kidney impairment and possible kidney failure
damage to the reproductive system, including infertility
cysts and the formation of scar tissue
complications in pregnancy and newborn deaths
pain during sex and lack of pleasurable sensation
psychological damage, including low libido, depression and anxiety (see below)
flashbacks during pregnancy and childbirth
the need for later surgery to open the lower vagina for sexual intercourse and childbirth
Psychological and mental health problems
Case histories and personal accounts taken from women indicate that FGM is an extremely traumatic experience for girls and women, which stays with them for the rest of their lives.
Young women receiving psychological counselling in the UK report feelings of betrayal by parents, regret and anger.
The legal situation
FGM is illegal in the UK. It is also illegal to arrange for a child to be taken abroad for FGM. If caught, offenders face a large fine and a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
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.
If you are worried that a child may be at risk of FGM you can make an anonymous call to our free 24-hour FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.