Female genital mutiliation

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What is Female Genital Mutilation?

Female Genital Mutilation is also known as female cutting or female circumcision.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as:
Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

FGM is classified into four types:

  • Type 1 - Partial or total removal of the clitoris or the clitoral hood
  • Type 2 - Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora
  • Type 3 - Narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and sewing over the outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris or inner labia.
  • Type 4 - All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, stretching and cauterising the genital area.

FGM can have severe consequences, both psychological and emotional and the medical consequences include extreme pain, shock, infection, haemorrhage, infertility, incontinence, HIV, urinary tract infections, menstrual obstruction, and death.

Where does FGM take place?

Globally, 100 to 140 million women and girls have undergone FGM and a further 3 million girls undergo FGM every year in Africa. Most females affected live in 28 African countries and also parts of the Middle East and Asia. National FGM prevalence rates in the African region and Yemen vary from as low as 1% to 90% or more. The highest prevalence rates of 90% or more are found in Somalia, Sudan, Djibouti, Egypt, Guinea and Sierra Leone. In other countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Togo and Senegal, the prevalence rates vary between 20% to 50%.

Growing migration has increased the number of girls and women living outside their country of origin who have undergone female genital mutilation or who may be at risk of being subjected to the practice. Except for a few cases where FGM is performed on adult women, FGM is usually performed on girls under the age of 18 years.

Why is FGM practiced?

There are huge pressures on families and communities in the UK and abroad to have FGM performed on their girls. Many children and women have FGM forced on them and have no choice as to whether it happens or not..

Some people practice FGM as part of their religion and there can be huge pressures to make girls have it done. However FGM is not recommended by any religion or in any religious texts, but might have become symbolic in some communities as a demonstration of faith.

FGM is often carried out to curb sexuality and to preserve girls’ cultural identity. In some communities where FGM takes place, marriage is seen as necessary for a woman's honour and survival. A woman who has not undergone FGM may stand little chance of marriage and may not be accepted by her community.

The strong cultural belief that FGM equates to purity, cleanliness and strong morals is a major factor in the continuation of the practice

Parents may require support to safeguard their girls from this practice.

FGM is Child Abuse and against the law

The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 makes it illegal to:

  • Perform FGM in the UK
  • Assist or arrange for anyone to carry out FGM abroad on girls who are British Nationals or permanent residents of the UK
  • Assist a girl to carry out FGM on herself

Penalty of up to 14 years in prison or a fine.

Project Azure:

Project Azure is the MPS response to female genital mutilation, through training, prevention work, pro-activity and community partnerships. The team works closely with Met Intel, the counter-terrorism command and its own pro-active unit for a co-ordinated approach targeting prevalent boroughs to protect London’s women and girls from harm.

Our mission is to work together with our partners to prevent FGM and to identify and protect victims from harm and identify and prosecute offenders.

The MPS aims to:

  • Identify, support, and protect victims or potential victims of FGM
  • Work with support networks to ensure victims or potential victims feel safe
  • Find those involved in FGM and bring them to justice
  • Provide guidance and advice where FGM is suspected
  • Deliver awareness training to a range of audiences
  • Increase public awareness
  • Engage with and establish strong links with practicing communities
  • Help and support by signposting to experts in the field

What to do if you suspect a girl has undergone FGM?

There are a number of indicators that a girl could have been subjected to FGM. These may include a prolonged absence from school with noticeable behaviour change on return, recent travel to a practicing country, lengthy periods out of the classroom, frequent visits to the school nurse. This list is not exhaustive.
If you have any concerns, share the information and report it.

You can report to the following agencies:

  • Your local Children's Social Care
  • NSPCC FGM free phone helpline 0800 028 3550 [information may be passed anonymously]
  • Crimestoppers free phone 0800 555 111 [information may be passed anonymously]
  • Police on 999 [for urgent calls] or the non-emergency Police line 101

 What to do if you suspect a girl to be at risk of FGM?

Suspicions may arise in a number of ways that a girl is being prepared for FGM to take place. If you have any concerns, report them to any of the free phone numbers above.

Important;  If you feel in immediate danger, or suspect a child may be in immediate danger, you should call 999 immediately. 

Useful organisation and contacts

If you require further information on FGM or you need advice or support, you can contact the agencies listed below - to view their contact details click on the respective link in the Contact sections - see right hand navigation;

  • Project Azure - Met Police
  • NSPCC FGM Helpline
  • University College Hospital, London, Under 18 FGM Clinic - see their related document in the related documents section.
  • FORWARD - Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development. Forward was established in the UK in 1983 and are based in North West London. They formed in response to health professionals seeing a rise in problems caused by female genital mutilation. They work to eliminate the practice and provide support to women affected by FGM.
  • IKWRO - IKWRO provides advice and support to Middle Eastern women and girls living in the UK who are facing forced marriage, 'honour' based violence, FGM and domestic abuse.
  • Daughters of Eve - An organisation that works to protect girls and young women who are at risk from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
  • Black Women's Health and Family Support [BWHAFS]. Their primary area of concern is promoting the eradication of Female Genital Mutilation [FGM]. They predominantly work with Somali and other black communities in London, in particular Tower Hamlets.
  • 28TooMany - is a values based FGM charity funded by supporters and donations, created to help eradicate Female Genital Mutilation [FGM] in the twenty-eight countries within Africa where it is still prevalent.

FGM documents are also available in the Related Publications section in the right hand navigation.