Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a scourge in the UK and one where its victims live in shame and secrecy. In 2017/18, figures show that FGM was listed in 1,960 social work assessments by councils, double that of the previous year.
Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre, told the Independent:
“Whilst we are making progress in tackling FGM, these alarming statistics show it is still being practised in communities across England. Even more concerning is that these figures are likely to just be the tip of the iceberg because many cases of FGM go undetected.”
FGM is a misunderstood practice. For example, many people believe it is practised predominantly in Muslim cultures. This is untrue. In some Eritrean ethnic groups, certain types of FGM are almost universal. In the Somali region of Ethiopia FGM runs at 98.5%. These are both predominantly Christian countries. FGM can happen to any woman or girl from any background regardless of age, race, nationality, social class, financial status or sexuality.
What is FGM?
FGM is the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia, for non-medical reasons on girls from infanthood to adulthood. FGM is carried out in the UK by some migrants from countries where FGM is practised. Around 137,000 girls in the UK have undergone FGM, but it is estimated this figure falls well short of reality.
The procedure is practised in certain countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. FGM is not particular to one type of religion, it is done by members of the Christian, Islamic, and Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) religions.
No faith endorses FGM.
There is no one type of FGM; rather there are four broad types:
- Type I (clitoridectomy): Partial or total removal of the clitoris
- Type II: (excision): Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.
- Type III (infibulation): Narrowing of the vagina with a covering seal, by cutting and re-positioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora.
- Type IV: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example pricking, piercing, incising, scraping or cauterisation.
What are the long-term consequences of FGM?
Women and girls subjected to FGM suffer a range of trauma, both physical and psychological, including:
- Severe pain and scarring
- Blood loss
- Pain during intercourse and difficulties with childbirth
- Exposure to HIV and Hepatitis C (where the same knife is used for multiple ‘operations’)
- Shock and death
FGM is illegal in the UK. Therefore it is often carried out in secret by unskilled people. This adds significantly to the risk of harm.
Why is FGM carried out?
Internationally, FGM is recognised as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. FGM is carried out for reasons including social acceptance, religion, misconceptions about hygiene, a means of preserving a girl or woman's virginity, making the woman "marriageable" and enhancing male sexual pleasure. In some cultures, it is seen as a rite of passage to adulthood.
Protection from FGM
Those at risk of FGM or who know of someone who is at risk can apply for an FGM Protection Order. The Order, if granted helps keep the girl/woman safe by confiscating the passport or travel documents of the potential victim or another person who may try and organise travel for an FGM procedure. It can also order family members or other named individuals not to aid, abet, counsel, procure, encourage, or assist another person to attempt to commit, commit or conspire to commit an FGM offence.
Breaching an FGM order can result in up to five years’ imprisonment.
Compensating FGM victims
If you have been the victim of FGM, you may be entitled to compensation if it is proven that a local body or health care worker failed to protect you from suffering the procedure. For example, if social workers were called into your family home after being alerted that there was a danger you could suffer FGM but failed to take any action, if the FGM was performed, they may be liable in negligence.
Compensation can help you fund reconstructive surgery and/or physiotherapy to help deal with complications caused by FGM, such as urinary problems. It can also help you to seek counselling for mental trauma and provide you with money to rebuild your life if you have been excluded from your family and community.
FGM is an illegal practice which has no medical or health benefits. If you or someone you know is at risk, you should seek help immediately. Phone the NSPCC helpline on 0800 028 3550 or FORWARD on 0208 960 4000.
In emergency situations, call 999 and ask for the police.
Our team of compassionate personal injury Solicitors can assist you with seeking compensation for FGM. You can contact us in complete confidence on 0333 123 9099, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our contact form. If required, we can meet you in a safe location.