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Female genital mutilation (FGM)

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or any other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

FGM has been categorised into four types, ranging from a symbolic prick to the clitoris or prepuce, to the fairly extensive removal and narrowing of the vaginal opening. All these forms of FGM have been found in the UK.

FGM is considered a grave violation of the rights of girls and women. FGM is child abuse.

The age at which girls undergo FGM varies enormously, from birth to adulthood, however, the majority of cases of FGM are thought to take place between the ages of 5 and 8 and therefore girls within that age bracket are at a higher risk.

Some will be taken abroad whereas others will be ‘cut’ in the UK, often at what is known as a ‘cutting party’ where an FGM ’practitioner’ (may be known as a ‘cutter’) is brought in to ‘cut’ several girls at a time.

Usually it is a girl’s parents or her extended family that are responsible for arranging FGM. Some of the reasons given for the continued practice of FGM include; protecting family honour, preserving tradition, ensuring a woman’s chastity, cleanliness and as a preparation for marriage.

Whilst FGM is often seen as an act of love, rather than cruelty, it causes significant harm and constitutes physical and emotional abuse. FGM is considered to be child abuse in the UK and is a violation of the child’s right to life, their bodily integrity as well as of their right to health.

FGM is not a religious requirement or obligation. FGM, including a symbolic prick to the clitoris, has no link with Islam and is neither a requirement nor a ‘Sunna’ in Islam.

FGM can kill

FGM can have serious consequences for a woman’s health and in some instances can lead to death. Infections, severe pain, bleeding and tetanus are just some of the short term consequences. In the long term women can suffer pain and discomfort during sex, chronic pain, infection, cysts, abscesses, difficulties with periods and fertility problems. Women also often suffer severe psychological trauma, including flashbacks and depression.

Women who have had FGM are significantly more likely to experience difficulties during childbirth and their babies are more likely to die as a result of the practice. Serious complications during childbirth include the need to have a caesarean section, dangerously heavy bleeding after the birth of the baby and prolonged hospitalisation following the birth.

FGM offences

  • It is illegal to practice FGM in the UK
  • It is 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 imprisonment and/or a fine
  • Provides provision to obtain Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order's, for the purposes of protecting a victim or potential victim of FGM.

This law protects girls and women who are British nationals or have permanent residency in the UK.  However, it is important to note that all girls no matter their immigration status are protected under UK Child Protection Laws.

If a person is under 16yrs, whoever is responsible or cares for the person, must protect the person from FGM.

Performing/arranging/encouraging FGM is a criminal offence – whether it happens in the UK or abroad – for any age victim.

Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order

A Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order (FGMPO) can be made by a Family Court in order to protect victims, both adults and children of a potential genital mutilation offence or people who have already had FGM performed.

This is a legal document issued by a judge designed to protect individuals according to their particular circumstances. The Court can make any Orders it thinks necessary to protect someone from experiencing FGM or to protect them if it has already occurred.

Orders can be made against one person or many people involved in arranging the procedure.

You can apply for a FGMPO:

  • If you feel you (or someone) may be pressured or forced into FGM
  • If you have been subjected to FGM

The Local Authority has the power to apply for a FGMPO  - no
permission is required.

The High Court can make an order which gives itself parental responsibility for a child, particularly if the child is taken abroad or is at risk of being taken abroad, also to ensure a child is protected when they are returned to the UK.  Also, the High Court can order that a woman who is abroad and considered to be at risk, be returned to the UK.

You could apply for a FGMPO yourself, or on behalf of someone else.  You can download the documents and instructions from the website: www.justice.gov.uk

What are the signs that a girl may be at risk of FGM or has undergone FGM?

Suspicions may arise in a number of ways that a child is being prepared for FGM to take place abroad. These include knowing both that the family belongs to a community in which FGM is practised and is making preparations for the child to take a holiday, arranging vaccinations or planning absence from school. The child may also talk about a special procedure/ceremony that is going to take place.

Indicators that FGM may already have occurred include prolonged absence from school or other activities with noticeable behaviour change on return, possibly with bladder or menstrual problems.

Some teachers have described how children find it difficult to sit still and look uncomfortable, or may complain about pain between their legs, or talk of something somebody did to them that they are not allowed to talk about.

What do you do if you are concerned about someone who is at risk of FGM?

Talk to them about your concerns, but use simple language and straightforward questions.

Be sensitive and let them know that they can talk to you again. Make a referral to Children’s Social Care and/or the Police.

Call the NSPCC FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 for more information or email them at [email protected]

What should you do if you are worried you may be at risk of FGM?

Talk to someone you trust, maybe a teacher or a school nurse. They are here to help and protect you.

Remember that no-one is allowed to hurt you physically or emotionally, and FGM is not allowed in this country.

You can get help. Call the NSPCC FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 for more information or email them at [email protected] nspcc.org.uk.

What to do if you have had FGM done?

You can seek medical advice and help from specialist health services. There are 15 specialist clinics around the UK and in some of these you can have a reversal procedure.

Call the NSPCC FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 for more information or email them at [email protected]

Visit www.gov.uk and search for female genital mutilation.

How can police help?

We encourage potential victims and those who have already had FGM performed to seek support and help from the police.  FGM is child abuse and all cases will be dealt with by our Child Abuse Investigation Teams. 

Essex Police take FGM and Honour Based crime very seriously and deal with each individual case sensitively and within our confidentially protocols.  You do not have to wait for a crime to be committed to come and talk to us about your fears.

The police work in partnership with Local Authorities and we can also refer you to other support agencies.

You can call 999 in an emergency, or phone 101 if you want safeguarding advice and support, or to report a crime.

If unable to remain on the phone line, please let the call taker know times when it will be safe for police to contact you back and what phone number or email address is safe.  We can arrange to meet you at a time and place that is safe and convenient for you.  You can also visit your local police station.

Your safety is paramount and we will ensure safety plans are put in place for you and any other family members who are at risk of abuse.

We understand that you may be scared to report FGM (to yourself or someone else) but we encourage you to do so.  FGM is under-reported because those at risk are either too young to protect themselves; adults involved may feel tied by family or community loyalty; they may feel too distressed to speak out; or may be unaware of the options and the help and support that is available.

FGM is always a matter for the police; we can help you and signpost you to additional support that you may need.  We will do everything possible to protect you and those at risk, and bring the people responsible to justice.

We can also help you obtain a Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order, or seek to obtain an Order for anyone who is believed to be at risk of FGM.

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