FGM is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured, or changed for non-medical reasons. It is also known as female circumcision or cutting, and it is estimated that annually more than three million females around are at risk of FGM globally.
The practice is mainly concentrated in the Western, Eastern, and North-Eastern regions of Africa, in some countries the Middle East and Asia, as well as among migrants from these areas. FGM is therefore a global concern.
FGM can cause severe bleeding, difficulty urinating, and complications in childbirth. The victims of FGM are usually young girls from infancy to adolescents but is occasionally performed on adult women. FGM is recognised internationally as a violation of a person’s human rights and reflects an inequality and discrimination against women.
FGM does not provide any health benefits; it only harms women and girls and disrupts the natural functions of female bodies. Some of the effects are:
- severe pain
- excessive bleeding (haemorrhage)
- genital tissue swelling
- infections e.g. tetanus
- urinary problems
- wound healing problems
- injury to surrounding genital tissue
Long-term complications can include:
- urinary problems (painful urination, urinary tract infections)
- vaginal problems (discharge, itching, bacterial vaginosis, and other infections)
- menstrual problems (painful menstruations, difficulty in passing menstrual blood)
- scar tissue and keloid
- sexual problems (pain during intercourse, decreased satisfaction)
- increased risk of childbirth complications (difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, caesarean section, need to resuscitate the baby) and new-born deaths
- need for later surgeries: for example, the sealing or narrowing of the vaginal opening may lead to the practice of cutting open the sealed vagina later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth (deinfibulation). Sometimes genital tissue is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures
- psychological problems (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem)
There is a misguided belief that FGM occurs due to religions reasons, but this is not accurate. It is not recommended by any religion but has become a symbolic demonstration of faith in certain communities.
FGM mainly occurs because of sociocultural factors in some communities. It is mostly forced upon young girls because their family and community believe it necessary for conception and childbirth; but the reality is that FGM is about the control of women and women’s sexuality and can lead to infertility and complications in childbirth.
FGM is not usually considered as a practice affecting girls in the United Kingdom, however NHS statistics covering the period of April 2016 to March 2017 reveal that there were over 9,000 cases where FGM was identified. Young girls are often taken abroad for FGM, especially in the summer holidays so that they have time to ‘heal’ from the procedure before they return to school.
FGM has been illegal in the United Kingdom since 1985 but the law was strengthened with the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 by making it a criminal offence for UK nationals to perform or arrange FGM overseas. It also increased the maximum prison sentence from 5 to 14 years and allowed FGM victims to obtain anonymity.
Additionally, in 2015 mandatory reporting of FGM was introduced to professionals such as Doctors, Nurses and Teachers, whereby if a girl under the age of 18 is identified as being a victim of FGM the Police must be notified. Female Genital Mutilation Protection Orders were introduced which can protect girls at risk of FGM by attaching provisions to the Order to surrender travel documents, preventing family members from taking the girl abroad.
IN 2019 a mother in the UK was the first person in the UK to be convicted of FGM offences; her daughter was 3 years old.
If you or someone you know is at risk of FGM the following support services are available for you to contact:
- Contact the police if someone is in immediate danger on 999
- NSPCC: 0800 028 3550 (or email firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Childline: 0800 1111