Female Genital Mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) refers to procedures that intentionally alter, mutilate or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM is medically unnecessary and can have serious health consequences, both at the time it is carried out and in later life.

FGM is prevalent in 30 African countries and areas of the Middle and Far East, but it is increasingly practiced in the U.K. in communities with larger populations of first-generation immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

FGM is deeply embedded in some communities and is performed for cultural and social reasons. It is usually carried out on girls before they reach puberty, but in some cases it is performed on new-born infants or on women before marriage or pregnancy. It is often justified by the belief that it is beneficial for the girl or woman, but FGM is an extremely harmful practice which violates basic human rights.

The most significant risk factor for girls and young women is coming from a community where FGM is known to be practised and/or where a mother, sister or other female family member has been subjected to FGM.

Practitioners should be aware of this and provide families with advice and information which makes it clear that FGM is illegal.

What does the law say about FGM?

FGM is illegal in the UK and has been a criminal offence since 1985. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 strengthened existing law to make it an offence to arrange for a child to be taken abroad for FGM, and for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to abet, counsel, procure or undertake FGM abroad, even in countries where the practice is legal.

The Serious Crime Act 2015 (guide) extends this protection to girls under the age of 18 who are ‘habitually resident’ (or on short temporary stays) such as students and refugees. The Serious Crime Act also creates a new offence of failing to protect a girl from FGM. If an offence of FGM is committed against a girl under the age of 16, each person who is responsible for the girl at the time the FGM occurred will be liable under this new offence where the maximum penalty is seven years imprisonment, a fine, or both. A ‘responsible’ person will have parental responsibility with the girl and frequent contact.

The 2015 Act also enables the high court or family courts to make a FGM Protection Order for individuals who are victims or at risk of FGM (similar to forced marriage (guide) protection orders. Victims or those at risk, or relevant third parties (including local authorities) can apply for the orders which set restrictions to protect an individual. 

Information for practitioners

If practitioners are aware, or suspect that a child or young person has undergone, or may be undergoing the procedure they should follow the West Yorkshire procedures and the Leeds Referral Pathway.

From the 31st October 2015, regulated professionals in health and social care professionals and teachers in England and Wales have a duty to report 'known' cases of FGM in under 18s which they identify in the course of their professional work to the police. Practitioners should complete the West Yorkshire Police FGM Reporting Form and email to cib@westyorkshire.pnn.police.uk. This will provide practitioners with an audit trail and a response email for their files. Alternatively reports can also be made by calling 101.


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