Close to 60,000 Girls in England At Risk of Female Genital Mutilation

Dawn O'Shea

September 16, 2021

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has expressed concern at new figures from Public Health England which report that about 60,000 girls under 15 years old living in the UK are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM).

In new advice and guidance for health care practitioners, PHE estimates that around 137,000 women and girls in the UK are currently living with the consequences of FGM. The procedure is carried out mostly on girls aged 0-15 years before the onset of puberty, but can also be carried out on older girls and women.

PHE says health care professionals play a crucial role in the identification of FGM. If FGM is identified through the delivery of health care services, it is mandatory to record it in the patient’s medical record. If the affected individual is under the age of 18 years, it is mandatory for all regulated health and care professionals in England and Wales to report the incident to the police. In cases where the woman is aged 18 years and over, health professionals are asked to follow local safeguarding procedures.

Speaking to Univadis, an NSPCC Helpline spokesperson said: "The figures from PHE are really concerning. Female genital mutilation has been illegal in the UK for over 30 years. It is a horrific form of child abuse that has no place in today’s society and can cause lasting physical and emotional scars."

The charity said children who experience FMG often don’t know what is happening.

PHE is reminding health professionals that FGM has no medical justification or health benefits. It has long term consequences for physical, sexual and psychological health, and girls and women who have been affected may need referral to specialist services.

FGM is illegal in the UK. It is also illegal to take girls who are UK nationals or UK residents abroad for FGM whether or not it is lawful in that country. Girls born in the UK may be at risk of FGM when they travel with their families to visit friends and relatives in countries where this practice is common. Countries with which UK residents are most likely to have links and which have a high prevalence of FGM, include Somalia (98% prevalence in girls and women aged 15-49 years), Egypt (87%), Sudan (87%), Sierra Leone (86%), Eritrea (83%), Gambia (76%) and Ethiopia (65%).

FGM can be classified into 4 types:

  • Type I: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (clitoridectomy).

  • Type II: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision).

  • Type III: Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).

  • Type IV: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterisation.

Short-term health effects include severe pain and shock, infection, urinary retention, injury to adjacent tissues and haemorrhage.

Longer-term implications can include extensive damage of the external reproductive system; uterine, vaginal and pelvic infections; cysts and neuromas; vesico-vaginal fistula; complications in pregnancy and childbirth; sexual dysfunction; menstrual dysfunctions; and psychological damage.

Women and children who have had FGM may need access to a variety of specialist services, including mental health services, uro-gynaecological services and infertility treatment.

Health care professionals can refer individuals to a National FGM Support Clinic, or encourage self-referral and walk-in appointments.

If you are concerned that a girl may be at risk of FGM, contact the NSPCC FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 or at fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk.

This article originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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