The UK is a signatory to a number of international and regional human rights laws against FGM including
- The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
- The Istanbul Convention
The practice of FGM in the UK has been a criminal offence since 1985 (Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985), and carried a 5 years imprisonment sentence.
The work of anti-FGM campaigners and FGM survivors, with the support of some expert professionals and voluntary and charitable organisations, has transformed UK policy in recent years. A number of policy documents and guidance papers have been produced to provide guidelines for front-line professionals.
Underpinning greater political and media interest in FGM has been the tireless work and lobbying of third sector groups such as Equality Now, Daughters of Eve, FORWARD, Integrate Bristol, AFRUCA etc.
Legislation on FGM
Female Genital Mutilation Act: 2003
The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 replaced and maintained the provisions of the 1985 Act. It revised it to set the maximum penalty on conviction for FGM to 14 years’ imprisonment and made it a criminal offence for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to:
- perform FGM overseas
- take a UK national or permanent UK resident overseas to have FGM.
It came into force on 3 March 2004 and applies to England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
The Act was replaced by the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 respectively, both of which extend the legislation to cover acts committed by UK nationals outside of the UK’s borders.
Under the 2003 Act, a person is guilty of an offence if they excise, infibulate or otherwise mutilate the whole or any part of a girl’s or woman’s labia majora, labia minora or clitoris for non-medical reasons. Any person found guilty of an offence under the FGM Act is liable to a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. The Act covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the nationality or residence status of the victim is irrelevant.
Scotland Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2005
The Serious Crime Act (2015)
The Serious Crime Act 2015 (the SCA 2015) amended the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 (‘the FGM Act 2003’) and introduced a range of new measures designed to lead to an increase in the number of prosecutions following successful campaigning by non-government organisations (NGOs), survivors and campaigners.
- Habitual residency decided upon a case by case basis
- Offence of failing to protect a girl from risk of FGM: Section 72 of the SCA 2015 Act inserts new section 3A into the FGM 2003 Act and introduces a new offence of failing to protect a girl from FGM. This will mean that if an offence of FGM is committed against a girl under the age of 16, each person who is responsible for the girl at the time of FGM occurred will be liable under this new offence.
- Extension of extra-territorial jurisdiction: Section 70(1) of the SCA 2015 amends section 4 of the FGM Act 2003 Act so that the extra-territorial jurisdiction extends to prohibited acts done outside the UK by a UK national or a person who is resident in the UK. The FGM Act 2003 now captures offences of FGM committed abroad by or against those who are at the time are ‘habitually resident’ in the UK irrespective of whether they are subject to immigration restrictions.
- Lifelong anonymity of survivors of FGM: Section 71 of the SCA 2015 amends the FGM 2003 Act to prohibit the publication of any information that would be likely to lead to the identification of a person against whom an FGM offence is alleged to have been committed. This commences once an allegation has been made and will last for the duration of the victim’s lifetime. This provision has been introduced to encourage more victims to come forward.
- Mandatory Reporting Duty for regulated professionals to report known cases of FGM to the police for cases where FGM is identified in under 18 applies to all regulated professionals Duty is on the individual – teachers, social workers, & NHS healthcare professionals(Only in England and Wales) (see below)
- FGM Protection Orders (see below)
FGM Mandatory Reporting Duty (Only in England and Wales)
Section 74 SCA 2015 inserts new section 5B into the FGM 2003 Act that creates a new mandatory reporting duty for regulated professionals. It includes doctors, nurses, midwives, and, in England, social workers, teachers and social care workers in Wales.
In October 2017 it became mandatory to report known cases of FGM on girls under 18 to the police. The duty applies where, in the course of their professional duties, a professional discovers that FGM appears to have been carried out on a girl aged under 18 (at the time of the discovery). The duty applies where the professional either is informed by the girl that an act of FGM has been carried out on her, or observes physical signs which appear to show an act of FGM has carried out and has no reason to believe that the act was necessary for the girl’s physical or mental health or for purposes connected with labour or birth.
Health professional should be aware that it is not mandatory to report all pregnant women to social services or the police. An individual risk assessment should be made by a member of the clinical team (midwife or obstetrician) using an FGM safeguarding risk assessment tool. If the unborn child, or any related child, is considered at risk then a report should be made
It is now mandatory for ALL pregnant women to be asked at booking whether they have had FGM (see section on How to Ask about FGM).
Mandatory Reporting is not a requirement in Scotland.
See RCM’s Q and A for regulated professionals
FGM Protection Orders- FGMPO
Section 73 of the SCA 2015 Act introduced FGMPOs for the purposes of protecting a girl against the commission of a genital mutilation offence or protecting a girl against whom such an offence has been committed. The court may make a FGMPO on application by the girl who is to be protected or a third party. The court must consider all the circumstances including the need to secure the health, safety, and well-being of the girl. An FGMPO might contain such prohibitions, restrictions or other requirements for the purposes of protecting a victim or potential victim of FGM. This could include, for example, provisions to surrender a person’s passport or any other travel document; and not to enter into any arrangements, in the UK or abroad, for FGM to be performed on the person to be protected.
FGM protection orders (FGMPO) offer a legal means to protect and safeguard victims and potential victims of FGM.
FGM protection orders are there to help protect girls from FGM. For example:
- The parents of children can take out an FGM protection order if they are concerned that their child may be at risk from other family members.
- An FGM PO can enable a judge to remove a child’s passport until the age of 18 so that she cannot be taken outside of the U.K.
- Or an order can stop a family member from visiting the U.K. if the judge thinks that there is an intention to arrange for a girl to be cut.
Multi-agency statutory guidance (2016)
Section 75 SCA 2015 inserts new section 5C into the FGM Act 2003 and confers the Secretary of State a power to issue statutory guidance on FGM which relevant individuals are required to have regard to.
The Multi-agency statutory guidance on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was published in April 2016. This document includes guidance on FGM and the law, talking about FGM and risk indicators.
Intercollegiate Recommendations (2013)
In 2013 the RCM, RCN, RCOG, Equality Now, UNITE (2013) brought together a group of experts to discuss next steps in tackling FGM in the U.K.
The policy document “Tackling FGM in the UK: Intercollegiate Recommendations for identifying, recording, and reporting. London: Royal College of Midwives.” recommended:-
- Treat it as Child Abuse
- Document and collect information
- Share that information systematically
- Empower frontline professionals
- Identify girls at risk and refer them as part of child safeguarding obligation information
- Report cases of FGM
- Hold frontline professionals accountable
- Empower and support affected girls and young women (both those at risk and survivors
- Implement awareness campaign
In response to the intercollegiate guidelines the Department of Health in England invested £3 million pounds in an FGM Prevention Programme that commenced in April 2014. New data collection requirements mandated for Midwives to routinely ask all pregnant women at booking whether they had FGM.
To date no-one has been convicted of FGM in England and Wales. In July 2014, the UK Government and UNICEF hosted the first Girl Summit, aimed at mobilising domestic and international efforts to end FGM. The Government made a number of commitments for new legislation to tackle FGM.
A new All Party Parliamentary group on Female genital Mutilation was set up in January 2015. A Home Affairs Select Committee published their support for a national action plan for FGM.
House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee Female genital mutilation: the case for a national action plan (June 2014)
The FGM Prevalence Dataset collected and published data from acute trusts covering the period 1 September 2014 to 31 March 2015. The FGM Prevalence Dataset collected nonidentifiable aggregate data about the prevalence of FGM within the female population as treated by acute NHS trusts in England. Prior to the FGM Prevalence Dataset in 2014/15 there was no collection of the prevalence of FGM. The final report of this prevalence data can be found on the HSCIC website: FGM Prevalence Reports.
In April 2015 the Department of Health’s FGM Prevention Programme introduced the FGM Enhanced dataset –
The Enhanced Dataset is an individual level data collection containing a much wider range of data items than the Prevalence collection. The Enhanced Dataset extended collection beyond acute trusts to include mental health trusts, GP practices and community services within mental health trusts. It became mandatory for all acute trusts to collect and submit the FGM Enhanced Dataset from 1 June 2015 and also became mandatory for all mental health trusts and GP practices from 1 October 2015.
All personal data are anonymised at the point of statistical analysis and publication.
Other Key Documents:
Female Genital Mutilation Risk and Safeguarding Guidance for professionals (May 2016)
This guide was created to help health professionals identify and assess the risk of FGM for patients in their care and to support discussions with parents and family members.
FGM Risk Assessment templates
Commissioning services to support women and girls with female genital mutilation (March 2015)
Working together to safeguard children A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (March 2015)
FGM: RCN guidance for travel health services (2016)
This publication acts as a supplement to Female Genital Mutilation: An RCN Resource for Nursing and Midwifery Practice (2016) and focuses on professionals working in travel health services.
Female genital mutilation: RCN guidance for sexual health care ( 2016)
This publication focuses on those professionals working in sexual health care services, and their safeguarding duties regarding FGM. Including pathways and guidance.
A Statement Opposing FGM ( 2012)
This is sometimes known as the FGM passport. Families travelling overseas to countries where FGM is prevalent can take this statement with them to share with family overseas. The passports can be downloaded in several languages. The document clarifies that FGM is a serious criminal offence in the UK with a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison for anyone found guilty. Relatives, or whoever is caring for them abroad, may also be found guilty of an offence if they fail to protect family members from FGM being carried out.
Signed Religious Declaration Against FGM (2016)
A declaration signed by religious leaders across the country highlighting FGM is not required as part of any religion.
FGM Act 2003 (see earlier)
FGM Protection orders (see earlier)
Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines: Female Genital Mutilation (Northern Ireland)
Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005
The 2005 Act extends protection by giving those offences extra-territorial effect in order to protect those being sent abroad to have FGM carried out.
Scotland’s National Action Plan to Tackle FGM (2016-2020)
This National Action Plan brings together best practice alongside Scotland’s national plan, and will help ensure that the necessary steps are taken to put Scotland’s commitment to protecting girls and women from harm into practice.
Mandatory Reporting is not a requirement in Scotland
The updated legislation for 2020 can be found here:
FGM Aware https://www.fgmaware.org/the-law.html
All Wales Protocol: Female Genital Mutilation (2011)
The protocol includes: Professional Guidance of Female Genital Mutilation for Health Professionals, Good Practice for Staff Working in Social Services Departments, Good Practice Guidance: The Role of the Police, Good Practice Guidance: The Role of the Voluntary Sector and Good Practice Guidance for Staff Working in the Education Authorities.
Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015
This Act places statutory duties to produce a range of local strategies against FGM including multi-agency collaboration, awareness raising, and training and workplace policies.
Barnardos National FGM Centre
0800 028 3550 or email@example.com
Health Education England e-learning modules
(Only accessible to healthcare professionals) via the e-Learning for Healthcare platform.
- An Introduction to FGM
- Communication Skills for FGM consultations
- Legal and Safeguarding Issues regarding FGM in the UK
- FGM: Issues, presentation and management in children and young women
- FGM: Issues, presentation and management in women and around pregnancy
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The role of Police in tackling FGM
The role of Police in tackling FGM:
The Police Service is committed to tackling FGM. Police work within a multi-agency setting to safeguard those at risk of FGM. When offences that fall within the FGM legislation have taken place (or are about to take place) there are also a number of enforcement options open to Police.
Key partners for Police include the NHS, Children’s Social Care, Schools, UK Border Force and the Crown Prosecution Service. Police also work closely with communities and third sector organisations.
The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) has a national governance framework for responding to Honour Based Abuse (HBA). HBA includes both FGM and Forced Marriage.
Police recognise that:
- FGM is child abuse.
- FGM is a hidden crime and is under-reported.
- To end FGM we must work with affected communities to help win ‘hearts and minds’, as a desire to eradicate FGM ultimately must come from within communities.
- Enforcement activity alone will not stop FGM.
- Prosecutions for FGM are important as they send a clear message that FGM is illegal and it will be challenged.
- There are a number of barriers to securing prosecutions for FGM. In particular, many cases of FGM take place prior to arrival of women and girls in the UK. Additionally, those who have committed the offences are often close family members and many children do not want to give evidence against them.
- Preventing FGM happening and safeguarding those at risk of FGM is a priority for Police due to the life-long physical and emotional damage caused if FGM takes place.
- Girls are at risk of being taken abroad for FGM. It is also likely that FGM is taking place in the UK. Police need information on what is happening so they can act accordingly.
- FGM does not necessarily happen in isolation from other culturally harmful practices. Forced Marriage, Honour Based Abuse, Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief (witchcraft allegations against children) and Breast Ironing can at times be linked.
FGM Protection Orders (FGMPO’s) are also often sought by Police.
To tackle FGM effectively (either through enforcement activity or by working with partners to safeguard those at risk of FGM) the Police are reliant on information being shared with them. If a child is at risk of FGM this information should be shared via existing multi-agency referral pathways. If a child is at immediate risk of FGM then you should dial 999. If a Mandatory Report is required as a result of a regulated professional either having being given a direct disclosure of FGM by a child under 18 (or having visibly identified signs of FGM on a child under 18) the regulated professional has a personal duty to call 101 and inform Police.
Health professionals should be reassured that the vast majority of cases reported to Police via Mandatory Reporting have not resulted in any adverse outcomes for the child or family. Often the FGM will be historic (happened prior to arrival in the UK) and there has been no call for further action from Police or Children’s Social Care. In fact in a small number of cases, it has led to positive outcomes in that safeguarding action has then been taken to protect other children in the family.
Community information on FGM that would be of use to Police would include:
- How FGM is arranged and conducted (i.e. where and when, what are the travel routes?)
- Who is involved?
- How supporters of these harmful practises are adapting to the increasing spotlight on these issues.
- At what age are children vulnerable to these practises?
- What is the role of men in FGM?
- Is FGM being medicalised in the UK? Where and who is involved?
- Are cutters being flown into the UK?
- Are cutting parties taking place? Where and who is involved?
This information is vital as it allows Police to improve our response to FGM. Where you have specific information relating to those involved in committing FGM this can be shared with local Police or can be shared anonymously with Crimestoppers.
The law around FGM is complex and has developed over time since FGM was first made illegal in the UK in 1985. Important concepts include:
- It is illegal to mutilate any part of a girls genitalia for non-medical purposes
- It is illegal to aid, abet, counsel or procure any of the above (i.e. arrange, help, advise)
- Extra-territoriality applies to FGM offences. This means girls who are ‘habitually resident’ in the UK are protected from being mutilated by anyone, anywhere in the world.
- There is no age limit to FGM offences. Women can be subject to FGM as well as children.
- The offence of Failing to Protect from FGM was introduced in 2015. This applies to those who are responsible for children under 16 who fail to protect them from FGM. This again applies both in and outside of the UK. It is an act of omission (i.e. means by failing to do something, you are guilty of an offence). This gives far greater protection to vulnerable girls and it is important to highlight the significance of this legislative change to communities and professionals.
Police are an important part of the multi-agency response to FGM and work closely with the Health Service and others. The role of Police is nuanced and sometimes misunderstood. Only by having a better understanding of the scale and nature of the problem can we collectively respond to it and achieve our mutual goal of eradicating FGM. Critical to success is the willingness and ability of both professionals and affected communities to share information on FGM with Police.
Inspector Allen Davis – Project Azure – 2018
 Other forms of harmful practices which can result in honour based abuse include but are not limited to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, dowry conflict, disownment, sexual orientation and identity, breast ironing, accusations of witchcraft, modern day slavery, domestic servitude and other forms of faith based abuse.