Female genital mutilation (FGM) is when a girl’s genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed for no medical reason. It is also known as female circumcision or cutting.
It is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and 15 years old, most commonly before puberty starts. However, it can also be carried out during adolescence or before a young woman gets married.
The painful procedure is often performed by someone with no medical training, with no anaesthetic or antiseptic and while the girl is forcibly restrained. It carries serious health risks and can cause severe, long-lasting damage including problems with sex, childbirth and mental health.
There are no health benefits to FGM. Religious, social or cultural reasons are often given, but it is child abuse and is against the law. It is also illegal for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to take their child abroad to undergo FGM. Anyone found guilty of this crime faces a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
All women and girls have the right to control what happens to their bodies.
What are the effects of FGM?
FGM can be extremely painful and dangerous, both during the procedure due to blood loss or infection, and in the long-term.
Women and girls who have been subjected to FGM are often in chronic and constant pain. They can suffer from frequent vaginal, pelvic or urinary infections, incontinence or problems passing urine, bleeding, cysts and abscesses.
It can also cause infections such as tetanus, HIV and hepatitis B and C, organ damage, menstrual problems, infertility and complications during pregnancy and labour which can be life-threatening for the mother and baby. Sex can often be difficult and painful, resulting in a lack of pleasurable sensation and reduced sexual desire.
The extremely traumatic experience can also lead to emotional and mental health difficulties, such as shock, depression, anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, sleep problems and self-harm.
What are the signs of FGM?
A girl at immediate risk of FGM may not know what’s going to happen. She might be aware of a special occasion or ceremony to ‘become a woman’ or get ready for marriage. She could be going on a long holiday abroad or going ‘home’ to visit family, or a relative or ‘cutter’ might visit from abroad. She may also know of a female relative being cut previously.
A girl who has had FGM may have difficulty walking, standing or sitting and could spend longer in the bathroom or toilet. They could also appear withdrawn, anxious or depressed and exhibit unusual behaviour after an absence from school or college. They may also be particularly reluctant to undergo normal medical examinations and could ask for help but not be explicit about the problem due to embarrassment or fear.
FGM is a crime and must be reported to the police.
If someone is in immediate danger of FGM, call the police. If you know a British national who has been taken abroad for FGM, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 020 7008 1500.