What is Female Genital Mutilation?

The facts:

  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
  • The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
  • FGM is internationally recognised as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
  • An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.
  • It is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15 years.
  • In Africa an estimated 92 million girls from 10 years of age and above have undergone FGM.
  • Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later potential childbirth complications and newborn deaths.
  • It is illegal to practice FGM in the UK.
  • Every year in the UK, an average 20,000-24,000 girls are at risk. The average age for FGM is between 4-14 years of age, but can happen prior or after that (FGM Annual Report 2017, NHS Digital)
  • Figures from 2016-17 show there were 9,179 attendances to NHS services in which FGM was identified, treatment was given, or a woman with FGM had given birth to a baby girl (FGM Annual Report 2017, NHS Digital)

The law:

The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 makes it illegal to

  • practice FGM in the UK
  • take girls who are British nationals or permanent residents of the UK abroad for FGM
  • aid, abet, counsel or procure the carrying out of FGM abroad
  • help a girl perform FGM on themselves in or outside the UK

Any person found guilty of an offence under the Act will be liable to a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment or/and a fine.

The Serious Crime Act 2015 also brought in a number of other changes:

  • Duty to notify the police of FGM (mandatory reporting): This section places a duty on those who work in ‘regulated professions’ namely healthcare professionals, teachers and social care workers, to notify the police when, in the course of their work, they discover that an act of FGM appears to have been carried out on a girl who is under 18. Failing to comply with the duty will be dealt with via existing disciplinary measures, which may include referral to the professional regulator and/or Disclosure and Barring Service as appropriate. This duty is effective from 31st October 2015. Further guidance on the mandatory reporting duty can be found in the Home Office guidance Mandatory Reporting for FGM procedures. The mandatory reporting Factsheet produced by the Department of Health provides additional information for mandate reporters. An FGM Mandatory Reporting poster and FGM_mandatory_reporting_duty flowchart have also been produced
  • Anonymity for victims: lifelong anonymity for alleged victims of FGM. The aim here is to increase reporting of FGM by encouraging victims to report FGM offences and to increase prosecutions by helping the victim feel safe in their anonymity if they report a crime against them.
  • Duty to protect a girl: there is a new offence of failing to protect a girl under the age of 16 from FGM. A person is liable if they are ‘responsible’ (possess parental responsibility) for a girl or have assumed responsibility for caring for a girl at the time when the offence is committed against her (this can include a Local Authority who has parental responsibility).
  • FGM Protection Orders: the high court or family courts will be able to make a protection order, which can be used to protect a girl who may be at risk of an FGM offence or a girl to whom FGM has been committed. It will be a criminal offence to breach the order and the penalty will be a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment or as a civil breach punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment.

For more information on FGM related legislation read the Home Office Factsheet.

In April 2016 the Government released Multi-agency statutory guidance on FGM which was updated in 2020

Spotting the signs

Suspicions may arise in a number of ways that a child is being prepared for FGM to take place abroad. These include knowing that the family belongs to a community in which FGM is practised and is making preparations for the child to take a holiday, arranging vaccinations or planning absence from school. The child may also talk about a ‘special procedure/ceremony’ that is going to take place. Girls are at particular risk of FGM during summer holidays. This is the time when families may take their children abroad for the procedure. Many girls may not be aware that they may be at risk of undergoing FGM.

UK communities that are most at risk of FGM include Kenyans, Somalis, Sudanese, Sierra Leoneans, Egytians, Nigerians and Eritireans. However women from non-African communities that are at risk of FGM include: Yemeni, Kurdish, Indonesian and Pakistani women.

If you have concerns that a girl or young woman may be taken overseas for FGM then please contact the FCO on 0207 008 1500 or email fgm@fco.gov.uk

What to do if concerned

FGM is child abuse and all agencies working with children in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough must follow the Multi-agency Procedures in the case of any concerns.

If you are concerned that a British citizen may be taken overseas for the purpose of FGM please call the Foreign and Commonwealth Office FCO on 0207 008 1500 or email fgm@fco.gov.uk

Since July 2015 it has been possible to obtain a Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order through the Family Court (like Forced Marriage Protection Orders). If you are concerned that someone may be taken abroad for FGM you can apply for a Protection Order. The terms of the order can be flexible and the court can include whatever terms it considers necessary and appropriate to protect the girl or woman.

National Resources

National FGM Centre

National FGM Centre – FGM Assessment Tool

National FGM Centre leaflets – About the Centre and Services and Products

National FGM Centre – FGM Guidance for Schools: Understanding your role in safeguarding girls, engaging parents and teaching about FGM

NHS England – FGM – Care and Prevention

NHS England – Commissioning services to meet the needs of women and girls with FGM

NHS England – FGM: Standards for training healthcare professionals

Department of Health – Safeguarding Women and Girls at Risk of FGM – Guidance for NHS Organisations

Department of Health – Service standards for commissioning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) care

Department of Health – FGM Risk and Safeguarding Guidance for professionals

Department of Health – FGM Safeguarding Pathway

Department of Health – FGM Risk Assessment Templates

Home Office – Multi-agency statutory guidance.

Home Office – Female Genital Mutilation: The Facts:

Home Office – Mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation: procedural information

Home Office – FGM Resource Pack

FORWARD films: They include Needlecraft, first released in June, The True Story of Ghati and Rhobi and My Body, My Rules.

‘Petals’ – App containing information about FGM, personal stories from those who have been affected, links to educational films, a quiz and tips on how to get involved in campaigning to end the practice.

Petals for Professionals – this app provides access to information and knowledge about FGM; the health impacts; the legal responsibilities of professionals; advice on initiating conversations; information for specific professions; and where to get support and advice.

‘Everybody’s Business’ is a new website launched by young people to educate their peers about FGM and what they can do to stop it.

Breast Ironing

“Breast Ironing” or “Breast Flattening” is the process whereby young pubescent girls breasts are ironed, massaged and/or pounded down through the use of hard or heated objects in order for the breasts to disappear or delay the development of the breasts entirely. Much like FGM, it is a harmful cultural practice and is child abuse and classified as physical abuse therefore professionals must follow the multi-agency safeguarding procedures. Read more here

Learning and Development

Free online course: Recognising and preventing FGM – Developed for the Home Office by Virtual College. This course is useful for anyone who is interested in gaining an overview of FGM, particularly frontline staff in healthcare, police, border force and children’s social care.