Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for cultural rather than medical reasons.
It is a cruel, dangerous and painful practice and its effects can last a lifetime.
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 made it illegal for someone to take a British national or permanent resident out of the country so that FGM can be performed elsewhere or to assist someone in doing so.
If you are found guilty of FGM – or helping it take place – you can be sent to prison for up to 14 years.
Despite FGM being illegal in many countries, the practise is still widespread across the world.
The health implications
FGM is categorised into four types, depending on the severity of the surgery. The majority of girls are cut before they reach 15.
The immediate effects are severe pain and bleeding, difficulty in passing urine, infections, injury, shock and sometimes even death.
The long-term effects include chronic pain, pelvic and other infections, cysts, excessive scarring, complications in pregnancy and childbirth, painful intercourse and decreased sexual pleasure.
The World Health Organisation lists the health consequences of FGM in more detail.
Protecting girls and young women from FGM
The Serious Crime Act 2015 introduced a legal duty for teachers and regulated health and social care professionals to tell the police if:
- a girl under the age of 18 tells them she has undergone an act of FGM, or
- they observe physical signs that an act of FGM may have been carried out on a girl under the age of 18
The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 requires professionals to inform the local council if they have reasonable cause to suspect a child is at risk of experiencing abuse, neglect or other types of harm. This includes suspecting a child has undergone FGM or is at risk of it happening.
This means professionals must inform both the police and the local council of their concerns.
Applying for a FGM Protection Order
Since July 2015, you can apply to the court for a FGM Protection Order if you are worried about a child or young woman. It is a criminal offence to breach this order (with a maximum five-year prison sentence). For more information and the relevant documentation, click here.
Raising concerns (as a lay person)
If you are concerned that a child or young person has undergone – or is about to undergo – FGM, contact your council’s Local Safeguarding Team in confidence or the police on 101. If it is an emergency, call 999.
You can also contact the FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550.
If someone has already been taken abroad
If it’s too late to stop the child or young woman being taken abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office immediately on 020 7008 1500.
Forward UK is working to end violence against women and girls. It offers support to anyone who is at risk of FGM or has been affected by FGM. Call 0208 960 4000 ext 1 (9.30am–5.30pm, Monday to Friday).