What is FGM?

Credit: Home Office

By Victoria Davies

What is FGM?

Female Genital Mutilation, otherwise known as female circumcision, is usually carried out on young girls before puberty - often between the ages of four and eight. It involves an operation where the female genitals are partly or entirely removed or injured. It is usually carried out by a woman with no medical training and with no anaesthetic. When they cut the girl it's usually with a razor, glass, scissors or knives and the girl is forcibly restrained.

There are four main types of FGM:

  • Type 1 – Removing part or all of the clitoris.

  • Type 2 – 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).

  • Type 3 – Removal of part of or all of the external genitals. Afterwards the remaining parts of the outer lips are sewn together leaving a small hole for urine and menstrual flow.

  • Type 4 - Other harmful procedures - these include pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping and burning the female genitals.

What happens to women who have FGM?

After the procedure women can suffer severe pain, shock, heavy bleeding and infections which can lead to death. Lifelong problems include repeated infections, infertility, complications giving birth and pain during sex. One of the major lasting problems is psychological damage and trauma from the experience.

Why is FGM carried out?

It is a deeply rooted cultural practice that has been carried out over generations primarily in parts of Africa but also in parts of the Middle East and South-East Asia. It is very much part of some communities cultural and social beliefs. Some believe it will reduce a woman's sexual desire and keep her "clean" for when she marries. Others believe it's part of their religion but no religious scripts prescribe the practice.

Does FGM happen in the UK?

It's estimated more than 60,000 girls are at risk in the UK every year from FGM but the real figures are unknown. Police and health workers believe it is being performed in this country, while other families are known to take their daughter's abroad to be "cut."

What can be done to stop it?

FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985. Anyone assisting, organising or carrying out FGM faces 14 years in prison. This includes anyone taking a British girl abroad for the procedure. Despite this there have been no prosecutions. The Government says it's committed to ending FGM in a generation and is now asking all hospitals to record every case of FGM, to get an idea of how prevalent it is. Police and other agencies are working to raise awareness and educate communities but many FGM survivors believe more needs to be done.