Help and support for those who have experienced or who are at risk of female genital mutilation.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is child abuse and can have long lasting impacts for survivors.
If you have experienced FGM or are afraid that you are at risk of having FGM performed on you, there are people that can provide help and support, in confidence.
NSPCC FGM helpline
Call: 0800 028 3550
Lines are open 24 hours a day and are free from landlines and most mobile phones.
What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but where there's no medical reason for it. 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.
FGM is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts. It is illegal in the UK and is child abuse. FGM is globally recognised and condemned as a practice which breaches basic human rights.
Myths about FGM
This section outlines some of the myths that lead to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) being undertaken.
Myths vary from region to region and from ethnic group to ethnic group. The most frequently cited justifications or explanations of FGM include:
- wishes of ancestors
- protect moral behaviour of women in society
- assure faithfulness of women to their husbands
- acceptance into adult society
- control of women’s sexuality
- infibulation ensures fatherhood
- increases fertility
- gender identity
- clitoris is a dangerous organ and must be cut
- clitoris will damage husband’s organ
- calms girls
- pleases men
- prevents infants and maternal mortality
- religious requirement
- preserves virginity
- controls waywardness of girls
- prevents pre-marital sex and adultery.
As these myths are passed from one generation to another, they have become engrained into the views of practising communities across the world, including those in Wales.
In reality FGM is illegal and a breach of human rights. It is not set out in any religious text and has physical and mental health implications for women and girls who survive FGM.
What are the effects of FGM?
FGM has damaging effects on the physical and mental (psychological) health of infants, girls and women at the time of operation and for the rest of their lives.
The effects can show themselves within a very short period starting from a few hours of the operation. Long-term complications are life-long, irreversible and require medical attention to reduce their effects.
Short term effects
- Shock from bleeding, pain and stress resulting from cutting very sensitive and delicate area of the genitalia without the use of anaesthetic.
- Bleeding or haemorrhage: the cutting of the blood vessels during the operation leads to bleeding. Protracted bleeding can lead to anaemia and even death.
- Urinary retention from fear of pain, tissue swelling or injury of the urethra cause pain and discomfort which could easily lead to bladder and urinary tract infections.
- Infection caused by the use of unsterilized instruments in an unhygienic environment which may lead to other complications and possibly death.
- Damage to other organs from inexperienced circumcisers.
- Repeated urinary infection because of the narrowing of the urinary outlet which prevents the complete emptying of urine from the bladder.
- Extremely painful menstruation due to the build up of urine and blood in the uterus leading to inflammation of the bladder and internal sexual organs.
- Formation of scars or cysts, which may result in abscesses.
- Difficult child birth which in case of long and obstructed labour may lead to death of the child during labour and brain damage of the infant.
- In the case of infibulation acute and chronic pelvic infection leading to infertility and/or tubal pregnancy.
- Accumulation of blood and blood clots in the uterus and/or vagina.
- Psychological consequences.
What should I do if I think I'm at risk?
If you think you are in immediate danger of being cut or being taken abroad to be cut, you can call the police (dial 999).
You can also speak to NPSCC's confidential free female genital mutilation (FGM) Helpline on 0800 028 3550.
FGM isn’t an easy thing to speak about. If you do not feel able to speak to your parents, it is important that you speak to someone that you trust such as your school teacher or doctor. You can also speak to the police or NSPCC FGM Helpline if you are worried that you might be at risk of FGM.
Police, doctors, teachers and other professionals have a duty to protect you and they will be able to get the necessary support that you need.
You can also apply for an FGM Protection Order for yourself. An FGM Protection Order is a court order which aims to protect victims or potential victims from FGM.
Specialist FGM Services may be in you local area and they will also be able to advise and support you.
What will happen if I call the female genital mutilation (FGM) Helpline?
If you have experienced – or are worried that you are at risk of FGM, then you can call the NSPCC FGM helpline for free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0800 028 3550.
The NSPCC FGM Helpline welcomes calls from anyone who feels they are at risk of FGM, have undergone FGM or are a professional seeking professional advice.
Callers can choose to remain anonymous. Calls are taken by staff that are highly experienced and fully trained. You will be listened to and offered advice and details of local services in your area.
If it is necessary to share information with other agencies, this will only be done with your full agreement. The exceptions to this are if your life was in immediate danger or if there was a child at risk. In these circumstances, necessary authorities would be informed to ensure the safety and well-being of you or a person or child that you are calling about.
The Helpline number will not show up on your telephone bill.
The FGM helpline is managed by NSPCC on behalf of the Home Office.
If you choose to email the FGM helpline at firstname.lastname@example.org, they will be responded to within 72 hours.
The Helpline provides support in English. They also use Language Line for those who prefer to have a conversation in another language. Sign video is also available.
How common is FGM?
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a hidden crime, so it is difficult to accurately say how common it is.
The less extreme type of FGM can be more difficult to identify.
Between 100 million and 140 million women and girls are thought to be living with the consequences of female genital mutilation, according to the World Health Organisation.
A report published in 2014, suggests 23,000 girls under 15 could be at risk of FGM in England and Wales and nearly 60,000 women could be living with the consequences of FGM.
In 2013, Unicef published an analysis of the prevalence of FGM in Africa and the Middle East. Using more than 70 national surveys, produced over a period of more than 20 years, the report focused on the 29 countries where the practice is most common.
Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in England and Wales: National and local estimates was published by City University London and Equality Now in July 2015. The report provides further estimates of the numbers of women with female genital mutilation (FGM) living in England and Wales, the numbers of women with FGM giving birth and the numbers of girls born to women with FGM.
Is FGM Illegal?
Yes, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is illegal and can result in up to 14 years imprisonment.
Practising FGM in the UK has been a criminal offence since 1985. The laws relevant to FGM include:
- prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 which made FGM illegal in the UK
- the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 which makes FGM a criminal offence for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to:
- perform FGM overseas
- make a UK national or permanent UK resident overseas to have FGM.
It sets the maximum penalty for FGM offences to 14 years' imprisonment.
This law applies to England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Scotland has its own FGM legislation.
The Serious Crime Act 2015 introduced additional duties and offences relating to FGM. These include:
- introduction of mandatory reporting of FGM. This duty is due to be introduced in autumn 2015
- introduction of FGM Protection Orders. These were introduced on 17 July 2015
- lifelong anonymity of victims of FGM
- introduction of tighter criminal law so that those with parental responsibility for a child under 16 can be prosecuted if they do not take reasonable steps to prevent the child being subjected to FGM where they knew, or ought to have known, that there was a significant risk of FGM being carried out.
Other laws which protect women and children and enforce human rights may also be relevant.