Female genital mutilation in the United Kingdom

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Female genital mutilation in the United Kingdom is the ritual removal of some or all of the external female genitalia of women and girls living in the UK. According to Equality Now and City University London, an estimated 103,000 women and girls aged 15–49 were thought to be living with female genital mutilation (FGM) in England and Wales as of 2011.[n 1][2]

FGM was outlawed in the UK by the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985, which made it an offence to perform FGM on children or adults.[3] The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 made it an offence to arrange FGM outside the country for British citizens or permanent residents, whether or not it is lawful in the country to which the girl is taken.[n 2][7][8] The penalty is up to 14 years in jail.[9]

The first prosecutions for FGM took place in 2015 against a doctor for performing FGM and another man for aiding and abetting; both were found not guilty.[10] The first successful conviction was secured in February 2019.


Efua Dorkenoo (1949–2014)

The diaspora communities in the UK thought to be at high risk of FGM include those from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan. The largest is the Somalia diaspora, with nearly 42,000 women and girls in the UK believed to be affected as of 2011.[11][12] FGM has a high prevalence in several of these countries, including the most severe form, FGM Type III. Girls from communities in which FGM is commonplace are often taken to their countries of origin during the school summer holidays in order to undergo the procedure. This period of the year is known as the "cutting season".[13][14]

In 1983 Efua Dorkenoo, author of Cutting the Rose (1994), founded the Foundation for Women's Health, Research and Development (FORWARD), a British NGO that supports women who have experienced FGM and tries to eliminate the practice.[15][16][17] Dorkenoo received an OBE in 1994 for her work.[18] Two years after she founded FORWARD, the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 made it an offence in the UK to perform FGM on children or adults.[12]

In 1993 a councillor at the London Borough of Brent proposed a motion that FGM should be legalised and made available on the National Health Service.[19] According to Ann John, a councillor who opposed the motion, the motion called for it to be classed as a "right specifically for African families who want to carry on their tradition whilst living in this country". John said she suffered verbal attacks, including threats that she herself would be mutilated; interviewed in 2014, she said she believed her treatment had deterred people for years from opposing FGM in case they were accused of racism. The motion was defeated.[20]

In 1997 specialist midwife Comfort Momoh set up the African Well Women's Clinic in London to help women affected by FGM.[21] Momoh was awarded an MBE in 2008 for services to women's healthcare.[22]

Local authority areas with highest FGM prevalence April 2015-March 2016[edit]

Per the City University study:[23]

Borough Newly recorded Borough Total attendances
Birmingham 435 Brent 1250
Bristol 385 Bristol 705
Brent 325 Birmingham 520
Manchester 310 Harrow 460
Southwark 290 Ealing 355
Enfield 215 Manchester 350
Ealing 175 Southwark 320
Lambeth 175 Enfield 265
Sheffield 165 Lambeth 200
Camden 140 Sheffield 185
Greenwich 130 Camden 175
Leeds 125 Hillingdon 175


The number of women aged 15-49 resident in England and Wales born in FGM practising regions having migrated to the UK was 182000 in 2001 and increased to 283000 in 2011.[24] The number of women born in the Horn of Africa, where FGM is nearly universal and the most severe types of FGM, infubulation, is commonly practised, increased from 22000 in 2001 to 56000 in 2011, an increase of 34000.[24] The number of women of all ages having undergone FGM rituals was estimated to be 137000 in 2011.[24] The number of women of ages 15-49 having undergone FGM rituals was estimated to 66000 in 2001 and there was an increase to 103000 in 2011.[24]


Prevalence among the 15–49 age group in the 29 countries in which FGM is thought to be most prevalent (UNICEF, November 2014)[25]

In 2007 the FGM National Clinical Group was created to train health professionals in how to deal with the practice.[26] Concern about FGM in the UK increased significantly in the mid-2010s. In November 2013 a coalition of Royal Colleges, trade unions and Equality Now produced a report, "Tackling FGM in the UK."[27]

Britain's first specialist clinic for child victims of FGM opened in London in 2014.[28] Since April that year all NHS hospitals have recorded whether a patient has undergone FGM or has a family history of it, and all acute hospitals are obliged to report this data to the Department of Health on a monthly basis.[29] According to the first official figures published on the numbers of FGM cases seen by hospitals in England, over 1,700 women and girls who have undergone FGM were treated by the NHS between April and October 2014.[30]

A 17-year-old student from Bristol, Fahma Mohamed, created with support from The Guardian an online petition on 6 February 2014 with Change.org, on the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation.[31] The petition asked Michael Gove, then education secretary, to write to primary and secondary schools, encouraging them to be alert to FGM. The petition was one of the fastest growing UK petitions on Change.org, with 230,000 supporters. Gove met Mohamed and members of the youth group Integrate Bristol, who have played a key role in raising awareness of FGM. He sent a letter to all headteachers in England informing them of new guidelines on children's safety, including guidance on FGM. This marked the first time the guidelines included mention of FGM.[32][33]

The city with the highest prevalence of FGM in 2015 was London, at a rate of 28.2 per 1000 women aged 15-49, by far the highest.[34] The borough with the highest rate was Southwark, at 57.5 per 1000 women, while mainly rural areas of the UK had prevalence rate below 1 per 1000.[34]

In 2015 police acquired the UK’s first FGM protection order.[35] This was acquired under a new law, the Serious Crime Act 2015, which allows such protection orders.[35] It also allows the combating of FGM by judges remanding people in custody, ordering mandatory medical checks, and instructing girls believed to be at risk of FGM to live at a certain address so authorities can see whether they have been mutilated.[35]

On 12 September 2016 Nottingham became the first City of Zero Tolerance towards FGM.[36]

In the April 2016 - March 2017 period the NHS attended 9 179 cases.[37][38] Only 26% of the victims reported the country in which the crime took place, but of those who did 1 229 cases took place in Africa and 57 were perpetrated in the UK.[37] No prosecutions were brought.

First prosecutions[edit]

As of 2015 there have been no convictions in the UK for performing or arranging FGM. By contrast, in France over 100 parents and two practitioners had been prosecuted by 2014 in over 40 criminal cases.[39][40] The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern in July 2013 that there had been no FGM-related convictions in the UK. The committee asked the government to "ensure the full implementation of its legislation on FGM."[41]

The first charges were announced in March 2014 against Dhanuson Dharmasena, a doctor, for having performed FGM on a woman from Somalia who had just given birth at the Whittington Hospital in north London. Another man was charged with aiding and abetting in the same case.[42] During the trial in January 2015 Dharmasena said he had performed a single figure-of-eight stitch to stem bleeding following the birth. Both men were found not guilty on 4 February 2015.[10]

A doctor in Birmingham, Ali Mao-Aweys, was struck off the medical register in 2014 after discussing how to arrange FGM with an undercover journalist in 2012.[43]

The first successful conviction was that of a Ugandan mother, who was found guilty at the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales on 1 February 2019.[44] On 8 March 2019, she was sentenced to 11 years in prison.[45]

Delays in investigations[edit]

In September 2017, it was reported that some children had spent months on protection plans or in foster care whilst they waited to be examined to determine whether they had been victims of FGM, with those examinations demonstrating that the suspicions were false. Research by University College Hospital in 2016 found the waiting time to be almost two months, with some girls having to wait more than a year. The hospital confirmed that this remained an issue as of September 2017. Anti-FGM charity Forward argued that the handling of cases was leaving some girls and their families traumatised.[46]

National Curriculum changes[edit]

In February 2019, the Observer reported that the UK government was to change the National Curriculum to include relationship education for primary age pupils and health education for pupils of all ages. Secondary aged pupils would be taught about grooming, forced marriage and domestic abuse. It requires that secondary schools to address the physical and emotional damage caused by FGM, the support available[clarification needed] and ensure that pupils know FGM is illegal.[47] [48]

Family Court[edit]

The Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2019 meant that all FGM cases in England and Wales go through family courts.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alison Macfarlane and Efua Dorkenoo: "An estimated 103,000 women aged 15–49 with FGM born in countries in which it is practised were living in England and Wales in 2011, compared with the estimated 66,000 in 2001. In addition there were an estimated 24,000 women aged 50 and over with FGM born in FGM practising countries and nearly 10,000 girls aged 0-14 born in FGM practising countries who have undergone or are likely to undergo FGM. Combining the figures for the three age groups, an estimated 137,000 women and girls with FGM, born in countries where FGM is practised, were permanently resident in England and Wales in 2011.[1]
  2. ^ Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003: "A person is guilty of an offence if he excises, infibulates or otherwise mutilates the whole or any part of a girl's labia majora, labia minora or clitoris," unless "necessary for her physical or mental health." Although the legislation refers to girls, it applies to women too.[4][5][6]


  1. ^ Alison Macfarlane and Efua Dorkenoo, "Female Genital Mutilation in England and Wales" Archived 2015-08-15 at the Wayback Machine, City University of London and Equality Now, 21 July 2014, p. 3.
  2. ^ "Female genital mutilation: the case for a national plan", House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2014–15.

    Also see "Female Genital Mutilation: Report of a Research Methodological Workshop on Estimating the Prevalence of FGM in England and Wales" Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine, Equality Now, 22–23 March 2012.

    For an earlier report, Efua Dorkenoo, Linda Morison, Alison Macfarlane, "A Statistical Study to Estimate the Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in England and Wales" Archived 2013-07-26 at the Wayback Machine, FORWARD, October 2007.

    Richard Kerbaj, "Thousands of girls mutilated in Britain",The Times, 16 March 2009 (courtesy link Archived 2013-06-26 at the Wayback Machine).

  3. ^ "Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985".
  4. ^ "Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003", legislation.gov.uk, and "Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003" (legal guidance), Crown Prosecution Service: "The Act refers to 'girls', though it also applies to women."
  5. ^ "Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003".
  6. ^ "Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005", legislation.gov.uk
  7. ^ Notes on some overseas countries' laws, FGM Education and Networking Project.
  8. ^ Tracy McVeigh, Tara Sutton, "British girls undergo horror of genital mutilation despite tough laws", The Guardian, 25 July 2010.
  9. ^ "Charity warns of FGM 'parties' taking place in England". BBC News. 2016-12-13. Retrieved 2021-09-12.
  10. ^ a b Sandra Laville (4 February 2015). "Doctor found not guilty of FGM on patient at London hospital". The Guardian.
  11. ^ Alison Macfarlane and Efua Dorkenoo, Mcfarlane and Dorkenoo 2014 Archived 2015-08-15 at the Wayback Machine p. 14.
  12. ^ a b J. A. Black, G. D. Debelle, "Female genital mutilation in Britain", British Medical Journal, 310, 17 June 1995. PMID 7787654
  13. ^ Blume, Rocco (25 July 2014). "'Cutting season' heightens threat for girls at risk of FGM". Plan UK. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  14. ^ Topping, Alexandra (6 February 2014). "Young British-Somali women fight FGM with rhyme and reason". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  15. ^ "Efua Dorkenoo". Equality Now. Archived from the original on 2015-03-04. Retrieved 2015-03-06.
  16. ^ "FORWARD: Who we are, our vision, our mission - FORWARD". Forwarduk.org.uk. Retrieved 2015-03-06.
  17. ^ Efua Dorkenoo, Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation, the Practice and its Prevention, London: Minority Rights Group, 1994.
  18. ^ Douglas Martin, "Efua Dorkenoo Dies at 65; Key Foe of Genital Cutting in Africa, Middle East", The New York Times, 27 October 2014.
  19. ^ Annette Scambler, "Gender, health and postmodernism," in Paul Higgs, Graham Scambler (eds.), Modernity, Medicine and Health, Routledge, 2005, p. 119, citing A. Boulton, "Calls for female circumcision on the NHS sparks storm," The Observer, 14 February 1993.
  20. ^ Anna Davis (28 March 2014). "Ann John: I was branded a colonialist for fighting against 'barbaric' FGM". London Evening Standard.
  21. ^ Jess Frampton, "From taboo to talking point – an eye-opening insight into Female Genital Mutilation" Archived 2014-10-27 at the Wayback Machine, UN Women, 18 June 2013.
  22. ^ Suzi Dixon, "Health and beauty: New Year Honours", The Daily Telegraph, 31 December 2007.
  23. ^ "House of Commons - Female genital mutilation: abuse unchecked - Home Affairs Committee". publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 2018-11-09 – via House of Commons.
  24. ^ a b c d Alison MacFarlane; et al. (July 2015). Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in England and Wales: National and local estimates (PDF). London: City University London. p. 5. ISBN 9781900804936. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 January 2018. Retrieved 10 February 2018.
  25. ^ The State of the World's Children 2015: Executive Summary, New York: UNICEF, November 2014, Table 9, pp. 84–89.
  26. ^ "About us", FGM National Clinical Group.
  27. ^ "Tackling FGM in the UK" Archived 2014-10-06 at the Wayback Machine, The Royal College of Midwives.
  28. ^ "TRF-UK opens first clinic for child victims of female genital mutilation". Sf.reuters.com. 22 September 2014. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014.
  29. ^ "Female genital mutilation: Hospitals to log victims". BBC News. 6 February 2014.
  30. ^ Alexandra Topping (16 October 2014). "FGM: more than 1,700 women and girls treated by NHS since April". The Guardian.
  31. ^ Topping, Alexandra (28 February 2014). "Fahma Mohamed: the shy campaigner who fought for FGM education". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  32. ^ Alexandra Topping (11 April 2014). "Michael Gove writes to every school in England about dangers of FGM". The Guardian.
  33. ^ "International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation". United Nations.
  34. ^ a b Alison MacFarlane; et al. (July 2015). Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in England and Wales: National and local estimates (PDF). London: City University London. p. 21. ISBN 9781900804936. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 January 2018. Retrieved 10 February 2018.
  35. ^ a b c Kevin Rawlinson (1970-01-01). "Police obtain first FGM protection order | Society". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-07-18.
  36. ^ https://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/nipd/2016/09/12/sheriff-nottingham-take-zero-tolerance-stance-female-genital-mutilation/
  37. ^ a b Davis, Nicola (2017-07-04). "NHS attended to 9,000 FGM cases in England last year, report reveals". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-09-18.
  38. ^ "Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Annual Report 2016/17 [PAS]". digital.nhs.uk. Retrieved 2017-09-18.
  39. ^ Renée Kool and Sohail Wahedi, "Criminal Enforcement in the Area of Female Genital Mutilation in France, England and the Netherlands: A Comparative Law Perspective", International Law Research, 3(1), 2014, pp. 3–5. doi:10.5539/ilr.v3n1p1
  40. ^ Megan Rowling "France reduces genital cutting with prevention, prosecutions – lawyer", Thomson Reuters Foundation, 27 September 2012.
  41. ^ "Concluding observations on the seventh periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine, United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 26 July 2013, p. 6, paras 36, 37.
  42. ^ "FGM: UK's first female genital mutilation prosecutions announced", BBC News, 21 March 2014.
  43. ^ "'Genital mutilation' doctor struck off after undercover press sting", BBC News, 30 May 2014.
  44. ^ "FGM: Mother guilty of genital mutilation of daughter". BBC News. 1 February 2019. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
  45. ^ "Mother jailed for 11 years over FGM". BBC News. 8 March 2019. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  46. ^ Kirkland, Faye (5 September 2017). "Families left devastated by false claims of FGM in girls". BBC News. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  47. ^ Iqbal, Nosheen (24 February 2019). "Children to be taught dangers of female genital mutilation". The Observer. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  48. ^ Iqbal, Nosheen (24 February 2019). "Children to be taught dangers of female genital mutilation". The Observer. Retrieved 24 February 2019.