Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It's also known as female circumcision or cutting.
FGM is often performed by someone with no medical training who uses instruments such as a knife, scalpel, scissors, glass or razor blade. Children are rarely given anaesthetic or antiseptic treatment and are often forcibly restrained.
The age at which FGM is carried out varies. It may take place:
- when a female baby is newborn
- during childhood or adolescence
- just before marriage
- during pregnancy.
There are four main types of FGM:
- Type 1 (clitoridectomy) – removing part or all of the clitoris.
- Type 2 (excision) – removing part or all of the clitoris and cutting the inner and/or outer labia.
- Type 3 (infibulation) – narrowing the vaginal opening.
- Type 4 – other harmful procedures to the female genitals including pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping or burning (NHS Choices, 2019).
Labia elongation (also referred to as labia stretching or labia pulling) involves stretching the labia minora, sometimes using sticks, harnesses or weights (AFRUCA, 2016).
FGM is child abuse and is illegal in the UK. It can be extremely dangerous and can cause:
- severe pain
- infection such as tetanus, HIV and hepatitis B and C
- organ damage
- blood loss and infections
- death in some cases.
Sometimes religious, social and cultural reasons are given to justify FGM, however it's a dangerous practice and can cause long-lasting health problems that continue throughout a child’s life, including:
- incontinence or difficulties urinating
- frequent or chronic vaginal, pelvic or urinary infections
- menstrual problems
- kidney damage and possible kidney failure
- cysts and abscesses
- pain during sex
- complications during pregnancy and childbirth
- emotional and mental health problems (NHS Choices, 2019).