Female Genital Mutilation

Definition

FGM is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the range of procedures which involve ‘the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reason’

There are four main ‘types’ of FGM depending on the type of procedure that is made.

Type 1 – the clitoris or the clitoral hood is removed

Type 2 – The clitoris and inner lips are removed

Type 3 – The clitoris, inner lips and outer lips are removed and the skin is sewn to leave only a small opening (infibulation)

Type 4 – all other harmful procedures (pricking, piercing, burning, scraping etc)

FGM can be performed on babies and toddlers, but it most often happens when girls are between the ages of 4-10, most commonly before they enter puberty. The World Health Organisation estimates that around 100-140 million women alive today have undergone FGM.

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Why is Female Genital Mutilation practised?

The origins of FGM are complex and justified by deeply ingrained beliefs by the cultural groups who practice it. Parents submitting their daughters to FGM are aware that an uncircumcised woman may stand very little chance of marriage and may not be accepted by her community.

Some common reasons given include:

• Custom and tradition

• Social acceptance

• Cultural identity and heritage

• Hygiene and aesthetics

• Maintaining a honour and virginity

• Ensuring marriage prospects

• Acceptance

• Repressing sexual desire

• Prevention of rape

• Increased sexual pleasure for the man

• Religious reasons (although no holy texts support this)

• Purification

Statistics

66,000 women in the UK have had their genitals mutilated and the same research suggests that 23,000 girls in England and Wales under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM.

Over 137,000 women in England and Wales are already living with the consequences of FGM

There have been no prosecutions for FGM despite being made a criminal offence in 1985.

Law

The Female Genital Mutilation Act (which replaced the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act, 1985) was introduced in 2003 and came into effect in March 2004.

The Act:

•makes it illegal to practice FGM in the UK;

•makes it illegal to take girls who are British nationals or permanent residents of the UK abroad for FGM whether or not it is lawful in that country (known as extraterritoriality);

•makes it illegal to aid, abet, counsel or procure the carrying out of FGM abroad;

•has a penalty of up to 14 years in prison and/or a fine

FGM as an education issue

FGM can have a significant impact on a girl’s education due to absenteeism, poor concentration, low academic performance and loss of interest. The loss of social opportunities also plays a huge part.

Warning signs:

- Child may be worried about a holiday or visit to a country where there is a high rate of FGM.

- Prolonged absence from school, with notable behaviour change on return

- Possible bladder or menstrual problems, or reports of pain between the legs

- Child may also talk about a ‘special procedure/ceremony/party’ that is going to take place.

 

More information can be found here HM Government (2011) Female genital mutilation: multi-agency practice guidelines (PDF). London: The Stationery Office. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/216669/dh_124588.pdf

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