In early 2019, a woman was found guilty of female genital mutilation for the first time ever in the UK. She was sentenced to 11 years in prison. But what is FGM? And where does it come from?
What is FGM?
FGM stands for “female genital mutilation”. It involves cutting, injuring or removing parts of the external female genitalia for no medical reason. This is sometimes called “female circumcision” or “cutting”. Around three million girls are at risk of FGM each year. It usually happens before they turn 15.
There are four main types of FGM:
Type 1 (clitoridectomy) involves removing the clitoris.
Type 2 (excision) involves removing the clitoris and the inner or outer labia.
Type 3 (infibulation) involves narrowing or sealing the vaginal opening.
Type 4 includes any other damage that might be done, including cutting, scraping or burning the area.
All four types of FGM are illegal in the UK. It is also illegal for someone to take a child who lives in the UK to another country for FGM.
Has anyone ever been convicted?
FGM has been illegal for more than 30 years in the UK, but the first conviction was not made until February 2019.
A woman from East London was found guilty of performing FGM on her three-year-old daughter in 2017. A month later, she was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Why did it take so long?
According to City University, there are around 144,000 girls at risk of FGM in England and Wales. However, it is a highly secretive practice, and it can be difficult to gather enough evidence for a court case.
“Often you are relying on a child giving evidence against someone close to them,” says Allen Davis of the Metropolitan Police.
Although there has only been one conviction, over 200 FGM protection orders have been issued since 2015. These are legal ways of protecting children who are at risk, such as by restricting their passports.
New laws to make it easier to protect girls from FGM will be debated in Parliament next month.
Where does FGM come from?
Although it is sometimes seen as a religious practice, it predates Christianity and Islam. There is no religion in the world which requires FGM.
Instead, it is a cultural practice which may go as far back as ancient Egypt; historians have found mummies with signs of FGM.
Where does it happen?
Mostly in 30 African countries, as well as some countries in the Middle East and Asia.
However, it can also happen in Western countries like the UK, particularly among families from places where FGM is common.
Why does it happen?
Several reasons can be given for FGM. In many cases it is part of a tradition or culture — for example, it might be seen as a rite of passage for women, or a pre-condition for marriage. Sometimes it is believed to protect a woman’s virginity or control her sex drive. Some people wrongly think it is needed in order to have children. It can also be done for aesthetic reasons.
These beliefs are often deeply held, meaning parents think they are doing the right thing for their daughter. However, none of these reasons justify harming a child against her will. FGM is a form of child abuse, and it violates the victim’s human rights.
What are the effects?
FGM can lead to health problems for the rest of the victim’s life — including pain, bleeding, difficulty going to the toilet, infections, and problems during sex and childbirth. It can also have severe effects on mental health.
In extreme cases, victims have died from the procedure.
What should I do if I am worried about FGM?
If you are worried that a girl you know is at risk of FGM, you can anonymously call the NSPCC on 0800 028 3550. If you or someone you know is at immediate risk, you can call the police on 999.
There are more resources and advice under Become An Expert.
- Why does FGM still take place, despite being illegal in most countries?
- As a class, discuss any myths or rumours you have heard about FGM. Try to answer the following questions: is it true? Where does the rumour come from? What is its purpose?
- Three million girls
- According to the World Health Organisation. In total, more than 200 million women and girls have been cut.
- Found at the top of the female genitalia, and the main source of female sexual pleasure.
- Inner or outer labia
- The labia are the two sets of vaginal lips — the fleshy folds of skin protecting the vagina.
- Metropolitan Police
- London’s police force. Davis is the FGM lead for the Met. You can read more comments from him in the Guardian link under Become An Expert.
- New laws
- The law will allow family courts to make interim care orders for children who are at risk of FGM. It was blocked last week by a Conservative MP who wanted a full debate on the issue, rather than allowing it to pass straight through into law. Several government ministers and FGM campaigners criticised him for blocking the law. He insisted he did not object to its content, but to passing laws without debate.
- Human rights
- FGM violates the human and children’s rights to live a life free from violence, discrimination, and cruel or degrading treatment.