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In context: Female genital mutilation

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In context: Female genital mutilation

What is female genital mutilation?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed for non-medical reasons. It is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts.

There are four main types of FGM: type one (clitoridectomy) – removing part or all of the clitoris; type 2 (excision) – removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia, with or without removal of the labia majora; type three (infibulation) – narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia; type four – other harmful procedures to the female genitals, including pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping or burning the area.

FGM is often performed by traditional circumcisers or cutters who do not have any medical training, although in some countries it may be carried out by a medical professional. Anaesthetics and antiseptics are not generally used, and girls may have to be forcibly restrained during the procedure.

It can cause long-term problems with sex, childbirth and mental health, while some girls die from blood loss or infection as a direct result of the procedure.


FGM has been a specific criminal offence in the UK since the passage of the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985. The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 repealed and re-enacted for Scotland the provisions of the 1985 act, gave extra-territorial effect to those provisions and increased the maximum penalty for FGM in Scotland from five to 14 years imprisonment. It also made additional forms of FGM unlawful and added offences under the act to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. Since the 1985 act was introduced and subsequently replaced and updated through the 2005 act, no FGM criminal prosecutions have been brought in Scotland.

What is the purpose of the new bill?

The new bill is designed to strengthen statutory protections for those at risk of FGM. It creates a new FGM protection order specifically designed to safeguard women and children who might find themselves under pressure to undergo FGM. The bill makes it a criminal offence to breach an FGM protection order or an equivalent UK order.

A court will be able to make such an order to protect a person at risk of being subjected to FGM. An application for a protection order will be able to be made by a person at risk or a victim, a local authority, Police Scotland, the Lord Advocate or any other person with the permission of the court. The Scottish Government estimates that between four and nine applications for orders would be made each year in Scotland.

The introduction of this legislation builds on the commitment made within the Scottish Government’s national action plan to prevent and eradicate FGM and to strengthen the law in this area.

The Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Bill will also see statutory guidance issued for professionals and agencies working in this area. This will help to ensure a more consistent and holistic multi-agency response across services to victims of FGM and those at risk of the practice.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a deeply abhorrent practice and a fundamental violation of the human rights of women and girls. It is a physical manifestation of deep-rooted gender inequality 

– Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie

Current status of the bill

The Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People, Shirley-Anne Somerville, on 29 May 2019.

The lead committee is the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, which has been taking evidence since September. The committee has heard from a range of organisations, including the Women’s Support Project, Police Scotland, Kenyan Women in Scotland Association and NHS Health Scotland.

The Scottish Government consultation on strengthening protections for FGM ran from October 2018 to January this year and received 71 responses, 43 of which were from organisations.

Stage 1 of the bill is due to be completed by 20 December 2019.

Worldwide response to FGM

In a 2013 UNICEF report covering 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East:

Egypt had the region’s highest total number of women that have undergone FGM (27.2 million)

Somalia had the highest percentage of FGM

(98 per cent)

Many governments in Africa and elsewhere have introduced legislation criminalising FGM, although the laws can be poorly enforced and the practice continues:

Africa: Benin (2003), Burkina Faso (1996), Central African Republic (1966, 1996), Chad (2003), Cote d’Ivoire (1998), Djibouti (1994, 2009), Egypt (2008), Eritrea (2007), Ethiopia (2004), The Gambia (2015), Ghana (1994, 2007), Guinea (1965, 2000), Guinea Bissau (2011), Liberia (2018, by one-year executive order), Kenya (2001, 2011), Mauritania (2005), Niger (2003), Nigeria (2015), Senegal (1999), South Africa (2000), Sudan (state of South Kordofan, 2008, state of Gedaref, 2009), Tanzania (1998), Togo (1998), Uganda (2010), Zambia (2005, 2011)

Others: Australia (six out of eight states from 1994-2006), Austria (2002), Belgium (2000), Canada (1997), Cyprus (2003), Denmark (2003), France (1979), Italy (2005), Ireland (2012), Luxembourg (on mutilations only, not specifically on genital mutilation, 2008), New Zealand (1995), Norway (1995), Portugal (2007), Spain (2003), Sweden (1982, 1998), Switzerland (2005), United Kingdom (1985), United States (federal law, 1996, 17 out of 50 states, 1994-2006)

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