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Female genital mutilation (FGM), also called ‘female cutting’ or ‘female circumcision’, is defined by the World Health Organisation as any procedure involving the partial or total removal of external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM is illegal in the UK, with a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. Find out what we're doing to prevent FGM, and how to get help if you’ve been affected.
Types of FGM
FGM can have severe consequences psychologically, emotionally and medically. It can include extreme pain, shock, infection, haemorrhage, infertility, incontinence, HIV, urinary tract infections, menstrual obstruction, and death.
There are no health benefits to FGM. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of women’s bodies for the rest of their lives.
FGM is classified into four main types:
- type 1: partial or total removal of the clitoris or clitoral hood
- type 2: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minor
- type 3: narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a covering seal, formed by cutting and sewing over the outer labia
- type 4: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, stretching or cauterising the genital area
For more information on the medical aspects of FGM, we strongly recommend visiting the NHS website.
FGM and the law
FGM is child abuse and is against the law in the UK. 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 habitual UK residents
- assist a girl to carry out FGM on herself
FGM carries a penalty of up to 14 years in prison.
FGM protection orders (FGMPOs)
An FGM protection order (FGMPO) is a civil order used to protect those who are vulnerable to FGM, and prevent it from taking place. It gives the courts flexibility in stipulating conditions around safeguarding the welfare of the protected person. This means a court can put provisions in place to facilitate the safe return of girls who have been taken outside the UK for the purpose of FGM.
An FGMPO can be obtained through three issuing family courts. Breaching an FGMPO can carry a penalty of up to five years in prison.
There are a number of indicators a girl could have been subjected to FGM. Examples can be:
- significant changes in behaviour
- absenteeism from school, particularly after a trip to an FGM practising country
- spending long periods of time out of the classroom
- spending longer than usual going to the toilet
- avoiding going to the toilet
- discomfort when sitting down
- avoiding physical exercise and PT classes
- frequent menstrual or urinary infections
Children are often unaware that FGM is going to take place. Unfortunately this means there may be few warning signs before it happens. However, sometimes children are made aware in advance, which can lead to a change in their behaviour, such as seeking advice or help from professionals and friends.
Project Azure and how we’re tackling FGM
Project Azure is our coordinated drive to eradicate female genital mutilation. The project is made up of four strands: prevention, protection, partnership and prosecution.
It’s vital that those responsible for FGM are prosecuted, but this can’t be the police’s only response. We’re working in partnership with a range of agencies, including NHS England, the Home Office, the Department of Health and Children’s Social Care to protect girls who are vulnerable to FGM and eventually end the practise entirely.
We’re also working closely with faith and community leaders to empower people to come forward if they have information about FGM.
If you are a regulated professional, such as a health worker, social worker or teacher, you are required by law to report any ‘known’ cases of FGM directly to the police via our non-emergency number 101.
‘Known’ means that you have either visually identified that FGM has been carried out, or you have had direct verbal disclosure from the child affected.
A partnership between Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association (LGA) to improve FGM services.
A free online course on how to identify and report female genital mutilation.
Free information on why and where FGM is carried out and the health risks involved.
A national charity offering advice and free telephone support for children and adults with questions about FGM.
A clinic in London providing care and support for women experiencing problems as a result of FGM.
An international charity working to end FGM through research and local initiatives.
An organisation promoting the eradication of FGM in the wider context of improving black women’s health.
A charity protecting girls and young women at risk from FGM.
A leading African diaspora women's campaign and support organisation tackling discriminatory practices against girls and women.
Charity providing advice, advocacy, referral and support to women and men in the UK in Arabic, Kurdish and Farsi languages.