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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. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is illegal in the UK.

An estimated 137 000 women in the UK are affected by FGM. 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. There are also worries that some girls may have FGM performed in the UK.

 

Forms of mutilation

FGM is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts. The procedure is traditionally carried out 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.

There are four main types of FGM:

  • Clitoridectomy - removing part or all of the clitoris
  • 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)
  • Infibulation - narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia
  • Other harmful procedures to the female genitals- including pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping and burning the area

Effects of FGM

There are no health benefits to FGM. Removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies.

Immediate effects

  • Severe pain
  • Shock 
  • Bleeding
  • Wound infections, including tetanusand gangrene, as well as blood-borne viruses such as HIVhepatitis B and hepatitis C
  • Inability to urinate
  • Injury to vulval tissues surrounding the entrance to the vagina 
  • Damage to other organs nearby, such as the urethra (where urine passes) and the bowel 

FGM can sometimes cause death.

Long-term consequences

  • Chronic vaginal and pelvic infections
  • Abnormal periods
  • Difficulty passing urine and persistent urine infections
  • Kidney impairment and possible kidney failure
  • Damage to the reproductive system, including infertility
  • Cysts and the formation of scar tissue
  • Complications in pregnancy and new-born deaths 
  • Pain during sex and lack of pleasurable sensation
  • Psychological damage, including low libido, depression and anxiety 
  • Fashbacks during pregnancy and childbirth
  • The need for later surgery to open the lower vagina for sexual intercourse and childbirth

Why is it done?

FGM is carried out for cultural, religious and social reasons within families and communities. For example, it is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly and as a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. FGM is often motivated by the belief that it is beneficial for the girl or woman. Many communities believe it will reduce a woman's libido and discourage sexual activity before marrying.

The legal situation

FGM is illegal in the UK. It is also illegal to arrange for a child to be taken abroad for FGM. If you are worried about someone who is at risk of FGM or has had FGM, you must share this information with social care or the police. It is then their responsibility to investigate and protect any girls or women involved.