Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the subject of this blog, affects millions of girls and women worldwide, including many girls in the UK, where it is illegal and classed as child abuse. FGM is globally recognised as a violation of human rights.
What is FGM?
FGM involves the cutting or other mutilation of female genitals without medical reason. It’s often done against the will of the girl or woman, resulting in them being held in restraints during the procedure.
The instruments used for FGM include knives, scissors, razor blades, scalpels and glass. Although FGM is sometimes carried out by medically trained people, in many cases it is not – and in many cases no anaesthetic or antiseptic is used.
Not only is it extremely painful, it can lead to serious health problems, including difficulties with sex and childbirth, as well as mental health issues.
Although cultural, religious and health reasons are often given for FGM, there is no health benefit whatsoever to the procedure – in fact the opposite – and no religious texts say that it must be carried out.
Who is at risk of FGM?
The procedure is largely carried out on girls before puberty. In some parts of Africa, more than 80% of girls and women have undergone FGM.
The Forward website (www.forwarduk.org.uk ) states that:
• 60,000 girls under 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK
• 137,000 girls and women are living with the consequences of FGM in the UK
• Over 130 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM
What other names are used for FGM?
Other terms for FGM include:
• Female circumcision
What are the four main types of FGM?
1. Clitoridectomy – where part or all of the clitoris is removed
2. Excision – where part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia are removed, sometimes also the labia majora
3. Infibulation – the cutting and repositioning of the labia to narrow the opening of the vagina
4. Other procedures that harm the female genitals (piercing, cutting, burning etc)
What damage is caused by FGM?
FGM can lead to a life of constant pain. This includes pain and difficulty when engaging in sexual activity and/or childbirth; bleeding, infections, infertility, incontinence and other medical problems. Infection and/or blood loss at the time of FGM can – and do – cause deaths.
Many emotional and mental health issues can be caused by FGM, including anxiety, anger, depression and nightmares.
Can FGM be reversed?
The procedure cannot be reversed, however, surgery can ease some of the issues arising as a result of FGM. This includes deinfibulation, where the vagina is surgically opened up.
What to do if you or someone you know is at risk of FGM?
FGM is illegal in the UK and is child abuse. Those performing FGM can be imprisoned for up to 14 years; those failing to protect a girl from FGM can receive up to seven years.
Any girls concerned that they might be taken abroad for FGM can download a Statement Opposing FGM from the NHS website: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/female-genital-mutilation/Pages/Introduction.aspx#statement
For urgent cases, dial 999 and report the matter to the police.
Alternatively, contact the NSPPCC helpline: 0800 028 3550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or speak to a healthcare professional.
There’s further information, advice and support on the Forward websites: www.forwarduk.org.uk and the recently launched young people’s site: www.forwardyouth.org.uk
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