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Female genital mutilation

The RCN is actively engaged in promoting best practice to help raise awareness about FGM

Female genital mutilation, also known as FGM, female cutting or female circumcision, is a violent and abusive act carried out on girls and women in some communities across the globe.

The practice is concentrated in 27 African countries, Yemen and Iraqi Kurdistan, and found elsewhere in Asia, the Middle East, and among diaspora communities worldwide.

The RCN is actively engaged in supporting best practice to help raise awareness among all health care professionals about FGM – what it is, where it takes place, how we can be engaged in its prevention, and how health care professionals and members of the nursing and midwifery team can help and support women who have been physically emotionally or psychosexually damaged by this act.

FGM affects the lives and health of an estimated 200 million girls and women living in countries where the practice is prevalent (UNICEF, 2016). The World Health Organization identifies FGM as a violation of the human rights of girls and women (WHO, 2014). The practice is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, commonly before puberty starts, and can have long-term negative effects on their health and wellbeing.

FGM is child abuse and the practice is illegal in the UK. The 'hidden' nature of the crime raises serious issues and concerns in relation to the safeguarding of girls and young women. It is vital that practitioners who come into contact with women, children and families from communities that practice FGM have an adequate knowledge and understanding of the issues in order to respond appropriately and act within contemporary legal frameworks.

For more information and RCN resources on safeguarding please see safeguarding.

Data on global prevalence

Every country and continent across the globe has a prevalence of FGM, and 28 Too Many provides details of country specific and continental spread of prevalence of FGM.

28 Too Many is a registered charity in England and Wales which undertakes research and provides knowledge and tools to those working to end FGM in the countries in Africa where it is practised and across the world. 

WHO guidelines on the management of health complications from FGM

New guidelines from the World Health Organisation aim to help health workers provide better care to the more than 200 million girls and women worldwide living with female genital mutilation. The recommendations focus on preventing and treating obstetric complications; treatment for depression and anxiety disorders; attention to female sexual health such as counselling, and the provision of information and education.

The guidelines also highlight the need for more research to improve evidence-based practice, so that health workers can better manage the complications arising from FGM, and the health community is better informed about the associated health risks, which also can contribute to effectively work towards the elimination of this harmful practice.

See: Management of health complications from female genital mutilation

Mandatory reporting

Health care professionals and members of the nursing team are now required by law to alert the police if they treat a girl under 18 who has had female genital mutilation.

On 31 October 2015 The Serious Crime Act 2015 introduced a new duty for regulated health, social care and teaching professionals to report cases of FGM when identified in a girl under 18 years old, or disclosed by her to a professional and to the police.

This new professional duty is a mandatory requirement for all nurses and midwives. It is a personal duty; it cannot be transferred to anyone else. For more information, read the Department of Health's guidance on mandatory reporting in health care.


The estimated number of girls and women who have been subjected to the practice

(WHO, 2021)

Related to female genital mutilation:

Professional lead for female genital mutilation: