Female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM) sometimes known as cutting, includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is mostly carried out on young girls somewhere between infancy and 15 years of age. It is illegal to practice FGM in the UK, or to take someone abroad for the procedure. It is a form of child abuse and sexual violence. There aren’t any health benefits associated with FGM and it often results in long-term consequences.

Why is FGM practiced?

  • Brings alleged status and respect to the girl
  • Preserves a girl’s virginity/chastity
  • It is part of being a woman
  • It is a rite of passage
  • Gives a girl social acceptance, especially for marriage
  • Upholds the family honour
  • Cleanses and purifies the girl
  • Gives the girl and her family a sense of belonging to the community
  • Fulfils a religious requirement believed to exist
  • Perpetuates a custom/tradition
  • Helps girls and women to be clean and hygienic
  • Aesthetically desirable
  • Mistakenly believed to make childbirth safer for the infant
  • Rids the family of bad luck or evil spirits

(FGM Multi Agency Practice Guidelines Nov 14)

What the law says

FGM has been a criminal offence in the UK since 1985

Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003
The Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Act came into force on 3 March 2004 and was amended by sections 70 to 75 Serious Crime Act 2015.

It is a criminal offence for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to take their child abroad to have female genital mutilation. Anyone found guilty of the offence faces a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

From July 2015 anyone can apply to the court for an FGM Protection Order if they are concerned that someone is at risk of FGM. Breaching an FGM Protection Order is a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment.

What are the signs that a child may be at risk of FGM?

Suspicions may arise in a number of ways that a child is being prepared for FGM to take place abroad including:

  • A mother, sibling or close family member who has had the procedure herself
  • Knowing that the family belongs to a community in which FGM is practised. UK communities that are most at risk of FGM include Kenyans, Somalis, Sudanese, Sierra Leoneans, Egyptians, Nigerians and Eritreans. Women from non-African communities that are at risk of FGM include Yemeni, Kurdish, Indonesian and Pakistani women.
  • Knowing that the family 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.

Health implications of FGM

  • Shock, severe pain and black out
  • Haemorrhaging
  • Urinary tract infections, urine retention
  • Injury to surrounding tissue
  • Injury to other limbs due to physical restraint
  • Infertility/complications/infection during childbirth
  • Painful sexual intercourse, psychosexual, physiological and social problems
  • Risk of infections
  • Death – at least 10% of victims

There are no health benefits of FGM

Indicators that FGM may have taken place

Health practitioners in GP surgeries, sexual health clinics, schools and maternity services are the most likely to encounter a girl or woman who has been subjected to FGM.

Other indicators that FGM may already have occurred include:

  • Prolonged absence from school
  • Noticeable behaviour change on return
  • Long periods away from classes or other normal activities, possibly with bladder or menstrual problems
  • Some teachers have described how children find it difficult to sit still and look uncomfortable or may complain of pain between their legs

How many cases are there?

In England and Wales, 60,000 girls age 0-14 are born to mothers who have FGM.

Migration of women to the UK living with FGM:

  • 103,000 women aged 15-49
  • 24,000 women aged over 50
  • 10,000 girls under 15

FGM is prevalent in 28 African countries as well as parts of the Middle East and Asia.

How to respond

If you have concerns that a girl or young woman may be taken overseas for FGM then you should call the Norfolk MASH immediately on 0344 800 8020.

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