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Female genital mutilation (FGM) is sometimes known as female circumcision. The
practice is used in many countries as a rite of passage into womanhood. The procedure
is usually performed on girls between the ages of four to thirteen, but in some
cases, FGM is performed on babies or on young women prior to marriage or pregnancy.
FGM is the term used for a range of procedures, which involve partial or total
removal of the female external genitalia, and/or injury to the female genitals,
for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reasons. These may include the excision
of the prepuce, the excision of the clitoris and labia, and the stitching up of
the vaginal opening (infibulation), leaving only a small outlet for urine and
menses. Long-term health complications may include urine retention resulting in
repeated urinary infections; obstruction of menstrual flow leading to frequent
reproductive tract infections and infertility; and prolonged and obstructed labour.
In addition to the physical complications, there maybe psychological and sexual
The Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act of 1985 made FGM illegal in the UK
and the number of women in the UK who seek medical help after undergoing FGM is
growing, however, there has never been a successful prosecution under the Prohibition
of Female Circumcision Act. Young girls are at risk of undergoing FGM in the UK.
They should be offered protection under the 1989 Children’ s Act (Working
Together). This states that if a local authority has reason to believe that a
child is likely to suffer significant harm as a result of female circumcision,
it should consider to what extent it should exercise its investigative powers
under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989, (for further details see the BMA web
site listed on this page).
Health workers need to use cultural sensitivity when discussing FGM, many women
see this procedure as a natural part of their cultural practices. You also need
to be especially careful when using an interpreter (do not use a male interpreter,
or a family members to interpret unless the client requests this).