What is it?
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, for non-medical reasons. Some of the reasons cited for carrying out FGM include religious requirements, cleanliness, ensuring a woman’s chastity, protecting family honour, and better marriage prospects.
When carried out on girls, it is a form of child abuse.
It is also sometimes referred to as female genital cutting or female circumcision. There are no health benefits and it is internationally recognised as a human rights violation. It is often carried out in non-sterile conditions and can have serious health consequences, even resulting in death.
FGM is practised in at least 29 countries across Africa, parts of the Middle East and South East Asia. UK communities that are most at risk of FGM include Kenyan, Somali, Sudanese, Egyptian, Sierra Leonean, Nigerian and Eritrean.
Is it a crime?
Yes. FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 and it is also illegal to take a girl abroad to have FGM if she is a British citizen or usually lives in the UK. Convicted offenders face a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
How common is FGM?
It is estimated that 60,000 girls under 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK, and 137,000 women and girls in the UK have already been subjected to it. Over 130 million women and girls worldwide have undergone FGM.
Figures from NHS Digital show that in the year to March 2021, there were 10,605 attendances reported at NHS trusts and GP practices where FGM was identified or a procedure for FGM was undertaken. Some 5,395 women and girls were treated for FGM during the year.
This means there is a newly recorded case in the UK almost every two hours.
Only a tiny proportion of cuttings take place in the UK; the vast majority involve girls being taken overseas to be cut.
Who is at risk?
Around three-quarters of the cases recorded by the National FGM Centre involved girls aged 10 or under.
What are the signs that someone may be at risk?
Suspicions may be aroused if a family that belongs to a community where FGM is commonly practised, is planning for the child to take a long holiday abroad, arranging vaccinations or planning a long absence from school. The child may also talk about a special procedure or ceremony that is going to take place.
Indicators that FGM has already occurred include a long absence from school or other activities, with a noticeable behaviour change on their return, possibly with bladder or menstrual problems. Some teachers have described how children find it difficult to sit still, and look uncomfortable or pained. They may mention something that happened to them that they are not allowed to talk about.
What can you do if you think someone you know is at risk from FGM?
If someone is at imminent risk of FGM, contact the police immediately
If in London, call the Metropolitan Police Child Abuse Investigation Command on 020 7161 2888
If abroad, call the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on +44 (0) 20 7008 1500
Call the dedicated NSPCC FGM Helpline: 0800 028 3550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact your local authority’s Social Services department
Call African women’s charity FORWARD on 020 8960 4000
What will happen?
Your report will be treated confidentially. Professionals are required to treat any reported case of FGM as a child protection issue and start a child protection referral. This means that the local authority’s children’s services will organise a meeting with various authorities and the girl’s parents, to assess the case and find ways to best protect the child. They will also consider whether any siblings are at risk.
A girl will NOT automatically be taken away from her home – this only happens in rare cases where the parents fail to guarantee that they will not carry out FGM on their child.
What punishment will offenders receive?
Anyone who commits FGM faces up to 14 years in prison, a fine, or both. Anyone found guilty of failing to protect a girl from risk of FGM faces up to seven years in prison, a fine or both.
In July 2015 the government introduced FGM Protection Orders in England and Wales – this is a civil law measure which can be made to protect a girl at risk of FGM or to protect someone who has already undergone the procedure. Such orders might include requiring a passport to be surrendered to prevent a girl being taken abroad for FGM. Anyone who breaches an FGM Protection Order can be jailed for up to five years.
Anyone that has undergone FGM is granted lifelong anonymity under the law – no information may ever be published that identifies them as a victim.
To help you raise awareness among your community about FGM and how to spot the signs, we’ve compiled a range of free campaign materials that you can use to educate and inform people in your neighbourhood.
Leaflets and posters that you can print off and hand out at events or leave in public places such as GP surgeries or schools, for people to pick up.
However, leaflets should not be put through letterboxes, just in case a perpetrator sees it and suspects the victim is seeking help or reporting them.
Online materials such as campaign websites, videos, GIFs and graphics that you can share on social media sites such as your Neighbourhood Watch Facebook group or Twitter feed.
The government has produced a useful leaflet called Female genital mutilation: the facts.
Neighbourhood Watch has produced a leaflet urging members to be aware of the signs of forced marriage, honour-based violence or female genital mutilation in their communities. You can find it in the Downloads section on this page.
FORWARD, the Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development, has produced a leaflet about FGM and summer holidays.
You can get help and advice in the UK from:
- FORWARD also publishes a number of other resources including an information and services guide for young people who have questions or concerns around FGM.
- In England you can find NHS specialist clinics for FGM and FORWARD has a list of specialist FGM clinics here.
- In Scotland you can contact FGM Aware or AMINA – The Muslim Women’s Resource Centre
- You can contact your local council and ask for the Safeguarding Children Board.