Global Resources

What is female genital mutilation (FGM)?

Publisher: Africans Unite Against Child Abuse
Publication Date: May 2008
Due, in part, to the increased emigration from Africa in recent decades, female genital mutilation (FGM) has become a global problem. One of the challenges that this rapid increase of migrant Africans poses for the UK government is the need for proactive strategies to address harmful cultural practices such as FGM. This publication was produced by Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (AFRUCA) as part of their Safeguarding African Children in the UK series to highlight the problem of FGM, and the role that members of the African community in the UK can play in addressing it.

This publication describes four types of FGM: cutting off the hood or prepuce of the clitoris (also known as Sunna) among practising communities; clitoridectomy, which involves the excision of the entire clitoris and parts of the inner vaginal lips (labia minora); and any procedure that affects the female genitalia, such as piercing, pricking, stretching of the clitoris and or labia minor, and adding corrosive substances and herbs to add dryness or to narrow the vagina.

The next section addresses the reasons why FGM is practiced. Although it is not certain how FGM began, there are various myths, religious beliefs and socio-cultural ideologies in different communities. Among the reasons it is believed that 'the ancestors' began the practice are: to curtail sexual excitement in girls, thereby preventing pre-marital sex. There are myths about FGM protecting women from demons who could otherwise have sex with them, give them diseases, cause them to give birth to deformed (demonic) babies. FGM is practiced in many communities as a rite of passage just before girls reach puberty. It is believed that un-mutilated girls and women are unclean, promiscuous and unsuitable for marriage. Among other reasons FGM is practiced is the mistaken belief that it is a religious requirement; the dominant religions in Africa are Christianity and Islam, but neither the Bible nor the Koran supports it (this is discussed further in the FGM and religion section). This document also talks about the many health risks and complications resulting from FGM; the rights of children and women under UK and international law; and contains advice for family and community members to safeguard girls at risk of FGM.