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What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” (World Health Organization). Female Genital mutilation is also sometimes known as ‘cutting’ or ‘female circumcision’.

What are the health consequences of FGM?

FGM has no health benefits and involves damaging healthy female genital tissue and can cause short-term and long-term physical and psychological damage. It can cause severe bleeding and problems with urinating and menstruating. It also increases risks of infections and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and can cause complications in pregnancy and childbirth.  

Why does FGM happen?

The origin of FGM is complex and it has not been clearly established. However, it is known that FGM predates both Christianity and Islam and it is not condoned by any religion.

There are many different reasons why FGM is continued and these can be categorised under five main headings:

1. Psychosexual reasons

FGM is carried out as a means to control women’s sexuality; to ensure chastity. It is thought to ensure virginity before and fidelity after marriage and it is believed to increase male sexual pleasure. It is also mistakenly believed by some to enhance fertility after marriage.

2. Sociological and cultural reasons

FGM is seen as part of initiation into womanhood and as a natural part of a community’s cultural heritage and tradition. It provides the girl with a sense of belonging and is seen as intrinsically linked to a family’s honour and standing in the community.

3. Hygiene and aesthetic reasons

In some communities, the female genitalia is considered to be dirty and/or ugly. FGM is therefore carried out to promote both cleanliness and aesthetic appeal.

4. Religious reasons

Although FGM is not sanctioned by any major religion, religion is often used to justify it.

5. Socio-economic factors

In many communities, FGM is necessary for marriage. Where women are financially dependent on men, economics can be a determining factor. FGM may also be a major income source for practitioners.

Is FGM illegal?

Yes, FGM is illegal in the UK. The Female Genital Mutilation Act was introduced in 2003 and came into force in 2004. The act replaced the earlier Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act (1985) and applied in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Female Genital Mutilation Act (2003):

  • Makes it illegal to practice FGM in the UK
  • Makes it illegal to take girls who are British nationals or permanent residents of the UK abroad for FGM whether or not it is lawful in that country
  • Makes it illegal to aid, abet, counsel or procure the carrying out of FGM abroad
  • Has a penalty of up to 14 years in prison and/or a fine.

The penalty for FGM is up to 14 years imprisonment and/or a fine on conviction on Indictment; and up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine (not exceeding the statutory maximum) on summary conviction.

Concerns have been raised that there is an extraterritorial loophole in the legislation, which means that habitual residents are not covered.  

The Government has introduced proposals for a civil protection order to close this gap, which is going through Parliament now. Find out more about the Serious Crime Bill on the Parliament website.

Support Services

If you are in immediate risk call 999 or 112 (from a mobile) for the Police.

Local Support Services

  • Solace Women’s Aid 07340 683382
  • Lotus Clinic (Whipps Cross Hospital) 07949 075814

National/London Support Services

  • Project Azure, Metropolitan Police: 020 7161 2888
  • NSPCC Female Genital Mutilation: (FGM) helpline 0800 028 3550
  • FORWARD, FGM Specialists: 020 89604000 email:
  • Daughters of Eve, FGM Specialists: 07983 030 488 or 07961797173

Health Passports Statement opposing female genital mutilation and information produced by the Home Office for those at risk of FGM are available in a variety of community languages from the VAWG Team at: