Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but there’s no medical reason for this to be done.It’s also known as female circumcision or cutting, and by other terms, such as sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan, among others.FGM is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts.It’s illegal in the UK and is child abuse.It’s very painful and can seriously harm the health of women and girls.
It can also cause long-term problems with sex, childbirth and mental health.
Getting help and support
All women and girls have the right to control what happens to their bodies and the right to say no to FGM.
Help is available if you have had FGM or you’re worried that you or someone you know is at risk.
- If someone is in immediate danger, contact the police immediately by dialling 999.
- If you’re concerned that someone may be at risk, contact the NSPCC helpline on 0800 028 3550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you’re under pressure to have FGM performed on your daughter, ask a GP, your health visitor or another healthcare professional for help, or contact the NSPCC helpline.
- If you have had FGM, you can get help from a specialist NHS gynaecologist or FGM service – ask a GP, your midwife or any other healthcare professional about services in your area.
Read about National FGM Support Clinics and where to find them.
If you’re a health professional caring for a patient under 18 who’s had FGM, you have professional responsibilities to safeguard and protect her.
Guidance and resources about FGM for healthcare staff are available on the GOV.UK website.
Types of FGM
There are 4 main types of FGM:
- type 1 (clitoridectomy) – removing part or all of the clitoris
- type 2 (excision) – removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia (the lips that surround the vagina), with or without removal of the labia majora (the larger outer lips)
- type 3 (infibulation) – narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia
- other harmful procedures to the female genitals, including pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping or burning the area
FGM is often performed by traditional circumcisers or cutters who do not have any medical training. But in some countries it may be done by a medical professional.
Anaesthetics and antiseptics are not generally used, and FGM is often carried out using knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades.
FGM often happens against a girl’s will without her consent, and girls may have to be forcibly restrained.
Effects of FGM
There are no health benefits to FGM and it can cause serious harm, including:
- constant pain
- pain and difficulty having sex
- repeated infections, which can lead to infertility
- bleeding, cysts and abscesses
- problems peeing or holding pee in (incontinence)
- depression, flashbacks and self-harm
- problems during labour and childbirth, which can be life threatening for mother and baby
Some girls die from blood loss or infection as a direct result of the procedure.
FGM and sex
FGM can make it difficult and painful to have sex. It can also result in reduced sexual desire and a lack of pleasurable sensation.
Talk to your GP or another healthcare professional if you have sexual problems that you feel may be caused by FGM, as they can refer you to a special therapist who can help.
In some cases, a surgical procedure called a deinfibulation may be recommended, which can alleviate and improve some symptoms.
FGM and pregnancy
Some women with FGM may find it difficult to become pregnant, and those who do conceive can have problems in childbirth.
If you’re expecting a baby, your midwife should ask you if you have had FGM at your antenatal appointment.
It’s important to tell your midwife if you think this has happened to you so they can arrange appropriate care for you and you baby.
FGM and mental health
FGM can be an extremely traumatic experience that can cause emotional difficulties throughout life, including;
- flashbacks to the time of the cutting
- nightmares and other sleep problems
In some cases, women may not remember having the FGM at all, especially if it was performed when they were an infant.
Talk to a GP or another healthcare professional if you’re experiencing emotional or mental health problems that may be a result of FGM. Help and support is available.
Treatment for FGM (deinfibulation)
Surgery can be performed to open up the vagina, if necessary. This is called deinfibulation.
It’s sometimes known as a reversal, although this name is misleading as the procedure does not replace any removed tissue and will not undo the damage caused.
But it can help many problems caused by FGM.
Surgery may be recommended for:
- women who are unable to have sex or have difficulty peeing as a result of FGM
- pregnant women at risk of problems during labour or delivery as a result of FGM
Deinfibulation should be carried out before getting pregnant, if possible.
It can be done in pregnancy or labour if necessary, but ideally should be done before the last 2 months of pregnancy.
The surgery involves making a cut (incision) to open the scar tissue over the entrance to the vagina.
It’s usually performed under local anaesthetic in a clinic and you will not normally need to stay overnight.
A small number of women need either a general anaesthetic or an injection in the back (epidural), which may involve a short stay in hospital.
Why FGM is carried out
FGM is carried out for various cultural, religious and social reasons within families and communities in the mistaken belief that it’ll benefit the girl in some way (for example, as a preparation for marriage or to preserve her virginity).
But there are no acceptable reasons that justify FGM. It’s a harmful practice that has no health benefits.
FGM usually happens to girls whose mothers, grandmothers or extended female family members have had FGM themselves, or if their father comes from a community where it’s carried out.
Where FGM is carried out
Girls are sometimes taken abroad for FGM, but they may not be aware this is the reason for their travel.
Girls are more at risk of FGM being carried out during the summer holidays, as this allows more time for them to “heal” before they return to school.
If you think there’s a risk of this happening to you, you can download the Statement Opposing FGM and take it with you on holiday to show your family.
Communities that perform FGM are found in many parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Girls who were born in the UK or are resident here but whose families originate from an FGM-practising community are at greater risk of FGM happening to them.
Communities at particular risk of FGM in the UK originate from:
- Ivory Coast
- Sierra Leone
The law and FGM
FGM is illegal in the UK.
It’s an offence to:
- perform FGM (including taking a child abroad for FGM)
- help a girl perform FGM on herself in or outside the UK
- help anyone perform FGM in the UK
- help anyone perform FGM outside the UK on a UK national or resident
- fail to protect a girl for whom you’re responsible from FGM
Anyone who performs FGM can face up to 14 years in prison.
Anyone found guilty of failing to protect a girl from FGM can face up to 7 years in prison.
Download the Statement Opposing FGM
The summer holidays are when many young girls are taken abroad, often to their family’s birth country, to have FGM performed.
The FGM statement, also known as the FGM health passport, highlights the fact FGM is a serious criminal offence in the UK.
If you’re worried about FGM, print out this statement, take it abroad with you and show it to your family.
Keep the declaration in your passport, purse or bag, and carry it with you all the time.
Download the statement opposing FGM on the GOV.UK website, which is also available in other languages.
National FGM Support Clinics (NFGMSCs) are community-based clinics that offer a range of support services for women with female genital mutilation (FGM).This service is available to women aged 18 or older who are not pregnant when they seek support.If you’re pregnantIf you’re under 18
How the clinics can help
National FGM Support Clinics are a place for women with FGM to discuss their health needs in a sensitive and non-judgmental environment.
The services are provided by an all-female team and include:
- physical assessment and treatment (including deinfibulation if required)
- emotional support and counselling
- general information
- access to FGM Health Advocates
- referral to a specialist consultant, if needed
How to access a clinic
National FGM Support Clinics run either weekly or every 2 weeks.
Referrals from GPs and other health professionals are strongly encouraged, but you can also access a clinic through:
- walk-in appointments
- using a self-referral service
Where to find a clinic
Midlands and East of England
Hammersmith – Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea Hospital (Sunflower Clinic)
Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea Hospital, Du Cane Road, London W12 0HS
Phone: 07730 970 738 or 07557 894 186
Monday: 12pm to 8pm
Tuesday: 12pm to 8pm
Wednesday: 12pm to 8pm
Thursday: 12pm to 8pm
Friday: 9.30am to 5.30pm
Waltham Forest – Chingway Medical Centre (The WAHA Clinic)
7 Ching Way, London E4 8YD
Phone: 0207 377 9643
Friday (every 2 weeks)
South of England
Bristol – Eastville Medical Practice (Rose Clinic)
East Trees Health Centre, 100a Fishponds Road, Bristol BS5 6SA
Phone: 07813 016 911