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What is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?

Safeguarding African Children in the UK Series

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is the partial or total removal of any part of the female genitalia. This includes the removal of the clitoris, labia minora (inner lips of the vagina) or the stitching of the labia majora (outer lips of the vagina). In many communities, this procedure is also known as Female Circumcision, Female Genital Cutting, “Clitoridectomy” or “Sunna”.

The World Health Organisation (1997) defines FGM as comprising: “All procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or non-therapeutic reasons”

According toWorld Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, communities from 28 African countries practice FGM. FGM is also practised in parts of the Middle East including Yemen, Syria and among the Kurds in Northern Iraq. WHO estimates that between 130 to 140 million girls and women are victims of FGM with those from the African continent recording an annual estimate of 3 million victims.

With the upsurge in migrant African communities into the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States of America in the last 20 years, FGM is no longer an African problem, but a global one. According to the 2001 UK census, there are 587,000 black Africans in the UK. The number of African children in the UK grew from about 96,667 in 1992 to about 145,667 in 2000 – a 50% increase over the 8 year period. In 2003, 41% of asylum applications were from Africa, especially those from conflict zones such as Sierra Leone, Somalia, Angola, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and Liberia.

According to the latest study in 2006 by the Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development (FORWARD-UK), it is estimated that nearly 66,000 women with FGM were living in England andWales in 2001. The study also estimates that over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM or may have been subjected to any one of the different types.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. At AFRUCA, we have produced this publication to highlight the problem of Female Genital Mutilation and the role that members of the African community in the UK can play in addressing it.