What Is Female Genital Mutilation?

Female genital mutilation (FGM), sometimes called female circumcision or female cutting, is a procedure which involves cutting the genitals to remove the clitoris and/or inner labia. It usually takes places between the ages of five and 15.

It has no medical benefits and can cause a host of painful, unpleasant and sometimes fatal medical issues. As the practice is often carried out on young girls with no anaesthetic or medical equipment, victims can sometimes die of shock and haemorrhage soon after.

Long-term effects include infections, cysts, infertility, severe pain and difficulty when urinating, having sex and giving birth, the latter of which can prove fatal to mother and baby.

Even though the practice has often been referred to as 'female circumcision', it is generally far more extensive, dangerous and invasive than circumcisions practised on men and boys.

There are three major types of FGM, which vary according to region and culture.

1. Clitoridectomy: Removal of the clitoris

2. Excision: Removal of the clitoris and inner labia (the inner 'lips' of the genitals)

3. Infibulation: The most extreme and dangerous form, this involves removing the clitoris, inner labia and most of the outer labia, before stitching up the remaining labia to form a 'seal' across the vagina.

Most commonly, the procedure is carried out by an untrained local female 'circumciser' with basic tools, such as razor blades, knives or even shards of glass, and often in unsanitary conditions. This leads to a significant risk of infection or inadvertent damage to organs.

However, perhaps more shockingly, the World Health Organisation estimates that 18 percent of FGM is carried out by medical practitioners. Even in the UK, there have been cases of doctors who have carried out or arranged to carry out FGM.

FGM is justified by practitioners on moral, cultural and religious grounds - however, it is not required by any Islamic religious texts and many Islamic organisations are working hard to raise awareness of this fact.

Instances of FGM are concentrated among some Islamic communities in Africa and the Middle East, particularly Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan.

Migrants to the UK from countries where FGM is common may want to arrange the procedure for their own daughters. The Government estimates that 20,000 girls in England and Wales might be at risk of undergoing FGM.

Families might arrange for FGM to be perfomed within the UK or take the victim to their home country for this purpose. Both of these are illegal in the UK, punishable by a heavy fine and up to 14 years' imprisonment.

If you have cause to suspect that a friend, neighbour, pupil or patient under your care may be at risk of undergoing FGM, you are urged to act. The NSPCC runs an FGM helpline where you can report your concerns (0800 028 3550), or you can contact police or local children's services directly.