Female genital mutilation (FGM)

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.

Why does it happen?

FGM is carried out for various cultural, religious and social reasons within families and communities in the mistaken belief that it will benefit the girl in some way, for example as a preparation for marriage, or to preserve her virginity.

FGM is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15; most commonly before puberty starts.

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 in UK law

FGM often happens against a girl's will without her consent, and girls may have to be forcibly restrained. It's illegal in the UK and is child abuse. It is also illegal to take a child out of the UK for FGM.  

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.

Girls are sometimes taken abroad for FGM, but they may not be aware that 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.

It's very painful and can seriously harm the health of women and girls. 

How it affects the victim

FGM 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.
  • It can also cause long-term problems with sex, childbirth and mental health.

Further information:


Forward UK

World Health Organisation