Female genital mutilation
Female genital mutilation (FGM), sometimes known as 'female circumcision' or 'female genital cutting', is illegal in the UK.
What is female genital mutilation (FGM)?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a collective term for procedures, which include the removal of part or all of the external female genitalia for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons. The practice is medically unnecessary, extremely painful and has serious health consequences, both at the time when the mutilation is carried out and in later life. The procedure is typically performed on girls aged between 4 and 13, but in some cases it is performed on new-born infants or on young women before marriage or pregnancy.
Prevalence of FGM in England and Wales
A 2015 study estimated that:
- approximately 60,000 girls aged 0 to 14 were born in England and Wales to mothers who had undergone FGM
- approximately 103,000 women aged 15 to 49 and approximately 24,000 women aged 50 and over who have migrated to England and Wales are living with the consequences of FGM. In addition, approximately 10,000 girls aged under 15 who have migrated to England and Wales are likely to have undergone FGM
- women who have undergone FGM do not only live in urban centres in England and Wales: while many affected women live in large cities where migrant populations tend to be clustered, others are scattered in rural areas
- no local authority area is likely to be free from FGM entirely: in many areas, the estimated prevalence is low, but there are still some women who may be affected by FGM
FGM and the Law
FGM is illegal in the UK and is a form of abuse. FGM has been a criminal offence in the UK since the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 was passed. Anyone who commits FGM faces up to 14 years in prison, a fine, or both.
The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 made it an offence for the first time for UK nationals, permanent or habitual UK residents to carry out FGM abroad, or to aid, abet, counsel or procure the carrying out of FGM abroad, even in countries where the practice is legal.
What are FGM Protection Orders (FGMPO)?
Female genital mutilation protection order (FGMPO) protect girls under 18 but also vulnerable female adults over 18 years. An FGMPO is for the purposes of protecting a girl against the commission of a genital mutilation offence or protecting a girl against whom such an offence has been committed. Breach of an FGMPO would be a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment, or as a civil breach punishable by up to two years' imprisonment.
What should frontline professionals do?
The Serious Crime Act 2015 created a new mandatory reporting duty requiring specified regulated professionals in England and Wales to make a report to the police. The duty applies where, in the course of their professional duties, a professional discovers that FGM appears to have been carried out on a girl aged under 18 (at the time of the discovery).
The new professional duty commenced on 31st October 2015 and applies to professionals working within healthcare or social care, and teachers. The intention is to make professionals' responsibilities in respect of FGM absolutely clear, and that it will aid police investigations and support an increase in the number of perpetrators caught and prosecuted. The duty applies where the professional is either informed by the girl that an act of FGM has been carried out on her; or observes physical signs which appear to show an act of FGM has been carried out and has no reason to believe that the act was necessary for the girl's physical or mental health or for purposes connected with labour or birth.
The Home Office has also produced a Female genital mutilation: resource pack. This includes FGM guidance, case studies and support materials for local authorities, professional services and specialist voluntary organisations.
Remember, if you are worried about a girl under 18 who is either at risk of FGM or who you suspect may have had FGM, you should share this information with Children's social care or the police by following the local Safeguarding children board procedures manual and procedures.
There is Multi-Agency statutory guidance on female genital mutilation.