Child abuse or Tradition ?

UK doctors mutilated girls aged 10 

Brutal illegal Female genital mutilations have been carried out on up to 100 000 women and young girls in Britain

Female genital mutilation or FGM involves the surgical removal of external genitalia and in some cases the stitching of the vaginal opening, is illegal in Britain and carries up to a 14 year prison sentence.

In the UK, it is estimated that up to 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of female genital mutilation. 

FGM is typically carried out on girls from a few days old to puberty. It may take place in a hospital, but is usually performed, without anaesthesia, by a traditional circumciser using a knife, razor, or scissors.

It also emerged that medical professionals in this country are offering to carry out the illegal surgery.

The custom of female genital mutilation (FGM) is predominant among Muslims, and is traditionally carried out for cultural reasons in Africa and with large numbers of immigration from countries like Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia it is becoming more common in the UK. It is believed to be proof of a girl’s ‘purity’ for when she marries, but victims often suffer in silence and are rarely given anaesthetic. They frequently suffer long-term damage and pain and often struggle to stand or walk properly.

The victims are coerced into the procedure by their families in the belief it will make them more “pure”. Campaigners say police are afraid to interfere because they fear being labelled racist.

The revelations emerged when secret footage was published by a Sunday newspaper of three men in Britain – a doctor, a dentist and an alternative medicine practitioner – offering to help in female genital mutilation.

FGM/C is a fundamental violation of the rights of girls and is a deeply entrenched social norm. It is a manifestation of gender discrimination. The practice is perpetrated by families without a primary intention of violence, but is de facto violent in nature. Communities practice FGM/C in the belief that it will ensure a girl’s proper marriage, chastity, beauty or family honour. Some also associate it with religious beliefs although no religious scriptures require it. The practice is such a powerful social norm that families have their daughters cut even when they are aware of the harm it can cause. If families were to stop practicing on their own they would risk the marriage prospects of their daughter as well as the family’s status.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision, is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

According to the WHO, it is practiced in 28 countries in western, eastern, and north-eastern Africa, in parts of the Middle East, and within some immigrant communities in Europe, North America, and Australasia. The WHO estimates that 100–140 million women and girls around the world have experienced the procedure, including 92 million in Africa. The practise is carried out by some communities who believe it reduces a woman’s libido.

FGM – The facts

  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

  • The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.

  • Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later, potential childbirth complications and newborn deaths.

  • An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.

  • It is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15 years.

  • In Africa an estimated 92 million girls from 10 years of age and above have undergone FGM.

  • FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

  • It is illegal to practice FGM in the UK

FGM is considered by its practitioners to be an essential part of raising a girl properly—girls are regarded as having been cleansed by the removal of “male” body parts. It ensures pre-marital virginity and inhibits extra-marital sex, because it reduces women’s libido. Women fear the pain of re-opening the vagina, and are afraid of being discovered if it is opened illicitly

Female Genital Mutilation has absolutely no health benefits and on the contrary, has significant negative health implications. Immediate complications include severe pain, shock, tetanus or sepsis, hemorrhage, urine retention, open sores and injury to the genital region. Long-term consequences can include bladder and urinary tract infections, depression, sexual dysfunction, kidney stones, infertility, benign nerve tumors, and various obstetric and gynecological problems. Sometimes FGM is practiced as a group rite on many girls at once and often using the same cutting tool. This can easily cause the spread of HIV and other communicable diseases.

Women are continually cut open for childbirth and re-infibulated afterwards, to make them desirable for their husbands for intercourse. This repeated process leads to the formation of a thick scar tissue which makes childbirth excruciatingly painful. It is also dangerous for the mother since it prolongs labor, blocks the birth canal and often causes perianal tears.  The ill effects of FGM are rarely blamed on the practice or the practitioner, but instead on the girl who undergoes the procedure. Often times witchcraft or the inadequate performance of rituals associated with the procedure are blamed. FGM victims also have a high suicide rate.

The Law

The UK Female Genital Mutilation Act was introduced in 2003 and came into effect in March 2004.

The Act:

  • Makes it illegal to practice FGM in the UK;

  • Makes it 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 in prison and/or a fine

According to Amnesty, in certain societies women who have not had the procedure are regarded as too unclean to handle food and water, and there is a belief that a woman’s genitals might continue to grow without FGM, until they dangle between her legs. Some groups see the clitoris as dangerous, capable of killing a man if his penis touches it, or a baby if the head comes into contact with it during birth, though Amnesty cautions that ideas about the power of the clitoris can be found elsewhere. Gynaecologists in England and the United States would remove it during the 19th century to “cure” insanity, masturbation, and nymphomania

What are the signs that a may be at risk of FGM?

Suspicions may arise in a number of ways that a child is being prepared for FGM to take place abroad. These include knowing 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.

Girls are at particular risk of FGM during summer holidays. This is the time when families may take their children abroad for the procedure. Many girls may not be aware that they may be at risk of undergoing FGM.

UK communities that are most at risk of FGM include kenyans, Somalis, Sudanese, Sierra Leoneans, Egytians, Nigerians and Eritireans. However women from non-African communities that are at risk of FGM include Yemeni, Kurdish, Indonesian and Pakistani women.

If you have concerns that a girl or young women may be taken overseas for FGM then please contact the FCO on             0207 008 1500       or email

You should also call:

  • Your local children’s services or local dafeguarding children’s board

  • Your local police child protection unit

  • The NSPCC on             0808 800 5000      

  • FORWARD on             020 8960 4000      

Indicators that FGM may have taken place

Indicators that FGM may already have occurred include prolonged absence from school, noticeable behaviour change on return and long periods away from classes or other normal activities, possibly with bladder or menstrual problems. Some teachers have described how children find it dificult to sit still and look uncomfortable or may complain of pain between their legs.

In Aisha’s household there are no razor blades. The 43-year-old could not bear it. So instead, her husband uses an electric razor. These days, Aisha (whose real name has been changed to protect her identity) lives in Europe. But she is still haunted by the memory of what was done to her when she was a 5-year-old living in Djibouti, a small desert state in north eastern Africa. 

“I was told at the time that it was going to be a marvellous day,” she says. 
Instead, she was mutilated, her entire external genitalia were cut off, and her vagina was sewn up. As a result, Aisha has had many medical complications, and will never be able to experience a normal sex life. She says that she will never forgive her relatives, the people she trusted most, for lying to her. 

Male proponents of female genital mutilation often refer to the practice as female circumcision, and like to point out that many men are circumcised, too. But from a medical point of view, this comparison is invalid. While it is true that some women only have the clitoral hood removed, in the majority of cases FGM – which is carried out using anything from razor blades to glass shards and even the lids of tin cans – goes much further, depending on regional tradition. In most cases the entire outer and/or inner labia are cut away along with the clitoris. The women who carry out the mutilations are held in high regard and earn good money.