FAQ’s FGM

What is FGM?
Who is affected?
From where does the practice of FGM originate?
Is FGM legal and what are the police doing?
What do the experts say?
Who is able to offer advice and support when FGM occurs?
What is the role of the police?
How widespread is FGM and why does it still occur?

What is FGM?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other damage to the genital organs for non medical reasons. It is sometimes referred to as ‘female circumcision’. However, unlike the majority of male circumcision, it can inflict severe physical and psychological damage.

FGM is generally performed on conscious victims in non-sterile conditions, sometimes using blunt or non-medical instruments, such as thorns or broken glass. Victims can at times dislocate limbs while held down and writhing in agony. FGM can at times inflict life-threatening injuries and destroy victims’ fertility.

The World Health Organisation identifies four major types ranging from Type 1 involving partial or total removal of the clitoris to Type 3 infibulation as the most serious , narrowing of the vagina opening. Type 4 refers to other not covered by Types 1-3.

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Who is affected?

FGM is typically inflicted on girls aged between four and thirteen, though newborn infants and young women entering marriage or child-bearing age have been victims. The most common age is between four and ten. FGM is a cultural practice and although it is practiced by people of many faiths, there is no basis for FGM in religion.

An estimated 138 million females are at risk worldwide – 24,000 in the UK. Young women and girls are taken abroad, commonly on flights in holiday periods, particularly in the summer. Some young women and girls come to the attention of police and other agencies when they seek medical help for the physical effects of FGM.

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From where does the practice of FGM originate?

The majority of known cases occur in 28 African nations (including Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone and some in the Horn of Africa), as well as others in the Middle East and parts of Asia.

Though some may characterise FGM as inspired by religion, no holy books from major religions – such as the Bible, Qur’an or the Torah – advocate it.

Campaigners say FGM is promoted by beliefs about the ‘lack of cleanliness’ of female genitalia and about control of women’s lives. It is seen by some as an ‘initiation ceremony’ and a route to adulthood for young girls and women.

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Is FGM legal and what are the police doing?

FGM is an offence under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. The maximum jail term is 14 years. In the two years from June 3 2009, a total of 75 ‘incidents’ in London included FGM concerns. Two cases in 2009 were investigated as crimes, with arrests but no charges. There have been no prosecutions to date. The MPS ( Metropolitan Police Service) always stresses the illegality of FGM but much effort goes into working with agencies to educate and prevent. It is crucial to reach secondary school girls who are growing up in the UK, some of whom may have undergone FGM. They can educate their mothers, fathers and relatives and protect younger sisters. The MPS adopts an intelligence-led approach, identifying individuals at risk – such as a girl talking about going abroad with a relative for a ‘special procedure’ – and, with other agencies, will intervene. Where necessary there are powers to remove at-risk children from families. The UK has not adopted the French approach of compulsory medical checks for girls at risk.

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What do the experts say?

The Foundation for Women’s Health says FGM is “traditionally carried out by an older woman with no medical training”. Anaesthetics and antiseptic treatment are not generally used and the practice is usually carried out using basic tools such as knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glasses and razor blades”.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says: “It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and hence interferes with the natural function of girls’ and women’s bodies. (It) causes severe pain and several immediate and long-term health consequences, including difficulties in childbirth causing dangers to the child.”

Waris Dirie – the human rights activist, supermodel, ‘”Bond Girl’ and best-selling author who underwent FGM at the age of five – said: “FGM has no cultural, no traditional and no religious aspect. It is a crime which seeks justice.”

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Who is able to offer advice and support when FGM occurs?

NSPCC Helpline

Project Azure (the MPS response to the practice of FGM) – 020 7161 2888 Crimestopppers – 0800 555 111 FORWARD (Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) – 020 8960 4000

AFRUCA (Africans Unite Against Child Abuse) – 020 7704 2261

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What is the role of the police?

The aims and objectives from a policing perspective are; To raise awareness amongst young people both men and women To identify and safeguard girls who may be at risk of FGM To empower young girls to seek medical advice and assistance if they have been subjected to the practice .

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How widespread is FGM and why does it still occur?

Female genital mutilation, also known as cutting, is practised in 28 African countries. The prevalence rate ranges from 98% of girls in Somalia to 5% in Zaire. It also takes place among ethnic groups in the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Canada, the US and New Zealand.

Until the 1950s FGM was used in England and the US as a “treatment” for lesbianism, masturbation, hysteria, epilepsy and other “female deviances”.

A survey in Kenya found a fourfold drop in FGM rates among girls who had secondary education. Reasons for the practice include conforming to social norms, enhancing sexual pleasure for men and reducing it for women, cleanliness and chastity.

No European country accepts the threat of FGM as a reason for asylum. In Sudan, 20%-25% of female infertility has been linked to FGM complications. In Chad, girls have begun to seek FGM without pressure from their immediate family, believing that to be “sewn up” proves they are virginal and clean. The fashion has led to uncircumcised girls being labeled “dirty”.`

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