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Female genital mutilation

What is female genital mutilation (FGM)?

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. FGM is illegal in the UK and causes significant physical, mental and emotional harm.

FGM is carried out for cultural, religious and social reasons within families and communities. It’s usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, and usually before puberty starts.

It is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and as a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. It is often motivated by the belief that it has benefits for the girl or woman. Many communities believe it will reduce a woman’s libido (sex drive) and discourage sexual activity before marriage.

The procedure is traditionally performed 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.

It is estimated that more than 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK each year, and that 66,000 women in the UK are living with its consequences. However, the true extent is unknown, due to the “hidden” nature of the crime.

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. It’s prevalent in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Some girls may have FGM performed in the UK.

In the UK, female genital mutilation tends to occur in areas with larger populations of communities who practise FGM, such as first-generation immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Forms of FGM

There are four main types of FGM:

  1. Clitoridectomy – removing part or all of the clitoris
  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)
  3. Infibulation – narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia
  4. Other harmful procedures to the female genitals, which include pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping and burning the area

For further information on female genital mutilation, including who to speak to if you or another young person has experienced or is at risk of FGM, please see the NSPCC website.