Female Genital Mutilation

Safeguarding Network

February 2024 - 4 minute read

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Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a painful, non-medical procedure undertaken on girls and young women which can seriously harm their long-term health. It is a form of child abuse that is illegal in the UK. 

According to NHS England, 33,590 women and girls who have undergone FGM have been seen at NHS services in England since April 2015. Where information about when their FGM took place is known, most of these women and girls were under eighteen when they underwent FGM.

The true extent is unknown due to the ‘hidden’ nature of the crime. The NHS England FGM report identified 1,675 cases of FGM in the period January 2023 - March 2023.

Girls and young women may be taken to another country to be mutilated during the summer holidays. Others are mutilated in the UK. The procedure is traditionally carried out by a woman with no medical training. Anaesthetics and antiseptic treatments are not generally used, and girls/young women may sustain additional injuries through being forcibly restrained.

FGM is part of a group of abusive practices known collectively as harmful practices.

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Definition of FGM

FGM comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs. It is illegal in the UK and a form of child abuse with long-lasting harmful consequences.

Keeping Children Safe in Education

Your responsibilities

The Serious Crime Act 2015 amended the FGM Act 2003 to introduce a mandatory duty on all teachers and regulated health and social care professionals (in England and Wales) to notify the police of any “known” cases (those where either a girl informs the person that an act of FGM – however described – has been carried out on her, or where the person observes physical signs on a girl appearing to show that an act of FGM has been carried out) where FGM has taken place on a child (i.e., anyone under the age of 18). 

If you fall into one of these categories you must report it directly to the police, as well as notify your designated safeguarding lead. The duty does not apply where there are concerns that a child may be at risk of FGM. If you believe there is a risk of FGM  your designated safeguarding lead/children’s social care must be notified immediately, without seeking consent from the family.

Regarding “observing of physical signs”, the guidance notes that it will be rare for most professionals to see visual evidence (other than when, for example, they provide intimate care for a child such as nappy changing or assistance with toileting) and that they should not be examining children.

FGM is abuse. Courts may make FGM Protection Orders which aim to protect specific children from being harmed.

More information

FGM can take place at any age from infancy upwards, often when new-born, during childhood or adolescence, just before marriage, or during pregnancy. It is also known as “female circumcision” or “cutting”, and by other terms such as Sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan, among others. There are no health benefits, but there are risks of serious harm both in the short and long term.

Countries that have significantly high numbers of cases of FGM include Somalia, Egypt, the Sudan, Malaysia and Mali.

FGM can cause severe pain, bleeding, wound infections, inability to urinate, injury to vulval tissues, damage to other organs and sometimes death. Other complications can arise later with the onset of puberty.

Types of FGM

There are four types of FGM:

  • type 1 – clitoridectomy – removing part or all of the clitoris and/or the clitoral hood;
  • type 2 – excision – removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia (lips that surround the vagina), with or without removal of the labia majora (large outer lips);
  • type 3 – infibulation – narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia, with or without removal of the clitoris;
  • type 4 – other harmful procedures to the female genitals, including pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping or burning the area.

UNICEF estimates that at least 230 million girls and women from 31 countries across three continents have been subjected to the practice, and over 4 million girls are at risk of FGM each year.

FGM only affects girls. Girls are potentially at risk when/if, for example:

  • they are born to a woman who has undergone FGM;
  • they have an older sibling or cousin who has undergone FGM;
  • one or both of their parents and/or older family members consider FGM integral to their cultural or religious identity;
  • their family indicates that there are strong levels of influence held by pro-FGM elders who are involved in bringing up their female children;
  • they or their family have a limited level of integration within the UK community;
  • their parents ask for them to be withdrawn from PSHE and R(S)E and/or they tend to be absent on days that it is taught;
  • they talk about FGM, needing to have a ‘special procedure’ or to attend a special occasion (possibly to ‘become a woman’). 

National FGM Centre

Spot the signs

Signs that FGM has been carried out may include:

  • constant pain;
  • repeated infections;
  • problems passing urine;
  • incontinence;
  • bleeding, cysts, abscesses;
  • pain during sex;
  • depression, flashbacks;
  • sleep problems;
  • self-harm;
  • difficulties participating in PE classes.

Later in life, women may experience difficulties becoming pregnant and those who do conceive may have significant problems with childbirth.

Signs that FGM might be about to happen to girls/young women whose families originate from an FGM-practising community (especially where their parents or older members of the family feel that FGM is part of their cultural/religious identity) include:

  • travelling to certain countries (especially during the summer holidays) in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, e.g., for a special occasion/ceremony;
  • talking about (or someone else talks about) someone coming to see them for a special ceremony (e.g., to ‘become a woman’);
  • parents saying they (or a relative) are taking the girl out of the country for a prolonged period and are evasive about why;
  • requesting help from a teacher or another adult because they are aware or suspect that they are at immediate risk of FGM.

What to do

Where there is concern that a girl/young woman is at risk of FGM, you should inform your designated safeguarding lead immediately, and a referral should be made to children’s social care. If she is in imminent danger, report to the police by calling 999 immediately.

If a girl/young woman discloses, or it is suspected that she has already undergone FGM, you must inform your designated safeguarding lead. As mentioned earlier, teachers in England and Wales must also refer ‘known’ cases to the police on 101 under the mandatory reporting duty. The girl/young woman should be offered medical help and counselling. Action should also be taken to protect any other girls/young women in the family and to investigate possible risks to others in the community.

We should not rely on young people to identify their abuse – often they don’t know they are being abused or are unable to tell us for whatever reason. In the case of FGM, they may not even remember it being done if it took place when they were an infant.

Ensure young people know the risks – talk about FGM at an age-appropriate level from the later years of primary school in the same way we do about consent and other issues.

Ensure your setting’s approach to safeguarding against FGM is multi-agency and multi-disciplinary. Key staff should work effectively with partners in social services, health and the police.

Check young people have safe relationships – in their families, with their peers and with your staff. Create an environment where it’s okay to talk even about the most difficult things.

Know the signs and know what to do – use the checklists above, your safeguarding procedures and be confident in raising FGM as a possibility.

Take action – and keep taking action until you know girls and young women are safe.


  • Multi-agency statutory guidance on female genital mutilation

  • Home Office female genital mutilation resource pack

  • Mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation: procedural information

  • National FGM Centre resources

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