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Religious Tolerance logo

Female Genital Mutilation

In the UK

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Female Genital Mutilation is an invasive procedure that is usually performed on girls before puberty in some countries of the Middle East, Africa, Indonesia and other Muslim countries in Asia. It has been practiced there as a cultural tradition for millennia.

FGM is occasionally performed within Aboriginal, Christian and Muslim families who have emigrated from one of these countries to the the UK It is seen by some of its supporters as a religious duty, social custom, and/or a necessary operation for health reasons. It is criticized by those in opposition as a cruel mutilation of a young girl in order to reduce or eliminate her sexual response after puberty. The practice remains so entrenched in the cultures of immigrants from these countries that girls who are not mutilated often have difficulty finding marriage partners.

Similar operations are done at birth to some "inter-sex" infants for what are seen by some as justified for medical or psychological reasons.

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Genital Mutilation among immigrants to the UK:

FGM in the UK is found most commonly among immigrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen. The most severe forms of FGM -- Types 2 and 3 -- are the most commonly performed.  It is frequently practiced in the cities of Cardiff, London, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield.

No precise data is available on FGM. Estimates of the number of girls and women involved are:

bulletAll Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health (2000-NOV): 10,000 at risk; 3,000 to 4,000 new cases each year.

bulletLabor force survey (1999): 5,444 girls under the age of 16 are at risk; 69,875 women have been mutilated either in the UK or in their countries of origin.

Girls are most often mutilated between the ages of 5 and 10, although some are operated on before their first birthday, in adolescence. or, rarely, in adulthood. Children are often taken to their country of origin for the procedure, where there is less chance of being detected. Most European countries have laws in place that allow parents to be charged even if the operation is performed outside the country of residence.

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Legislation and regulations:

The Female Circumcision Act was proclaimed in 1985; it was the first legislation of its type in Europe. Its coverage was expanded in the Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2003 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in the Female Genital Mutilation Act (Scotland) in 2005. All types of FGM are prohibited by these laws,

The latter laws included provision to criminalize mutilation that is performed outside of the UK and Scotland on a girl who is a UK national or permanent resident. They also increased the possible sentence from 5 to 14 years in jail. They state that:

"A person is guilty of an offence if he excises, infibulates or otherwise mutilates the whole or any part of a girl's labia majora, labia minora or clitoris."

The term "girl" in this legislation can refer to females of all ages.

Surgical procedures are allowed by approved persons if "... necessary for her physical or mental health..." However, it stipulates that:

"For the purpose of determining whether an operation is necessary for the mental health of a girl it is immaterial whether she or any other person believes that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual."

The law does not specifically mention "re-inffibulation" -- the re-closing of the vagina after childbirth, or piercing or tattooing. The status of cosmetic genital surgery is also not mentioned. This is becoming increasingly popular in the West. It involves procedures whereby the vagina is tightened for greater sexual satisfaction, and/or the labia minora are trimmed for appearance reasons.

Nobody has been tried under these laws as of 2006. However, a physician was removed from the medical register in 1993 for performing FGM while he knew that it was illegal. Another physician was removed for offering to conduct a FGM procedure.

The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Nurses, and the Royal College of Midwifes have issued guidelines prohibiting FGM. The Royal College of Midwifes and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists also ban re-infibulation after childbirth. The British Medical Association suggests that medical professionals should explain the health and legal issues involved when they treat a girl who has undergone FGM or may have the procedure done.

There have been some successful UK asylum claims by refugees that were based on the threat of FGM if they were returned to their country of origin. 1

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Prevention of FGM:

The London-based Foundation for Women's Health, Research and Development (FORWARD) has as its main goal the eradication of FGM worldwide. They conduced a study involving 70 women from four countries -- Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan-- who lived in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster. They found that 85% favored an end to FGM. 78% said they would not allow their daughters to undergo FGM; 21% said that they would; 1.7% were undecided or did not answer. 1

Other London-based organization active in this field are: Research, Action and Information Network for the Bodily Integrity of Women (RAINBO), the Black Women's Health and Family Organisation, and Women Living under Muslim Law.

The African Well Woman Clinic in London offers free and confidential de-infibulation surgery.

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The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, suggests that anyone with information about female circumcision in the UK should call Crimestoppers in confidence at 0800 555111, or email

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References used:

  1. Sophie Poldermans, "Combating Female Genital Mutilation in Europe," Page 50, at: This is a PDF file. It is a very extensive report on FGM and is well worth reading in its entirety.
  2. Jo-Ann Goodwin & David Jones, "How the unspeakable practice of female circumcision is destroying young women's lives in 21st century Britain," Daily Mail, 2007-JAN-03, at:

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See our news feed on women's issues. It shows 20 current news items, and is updated every 15 minutes.

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Copyright © 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2008-JAN-03

Last updated on 2008-JAN-03
Author: Bruce A Robinson

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