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What is female genital cutting and why does it happen?

By Maggie Burrows


What is female genital cutting?

Female genital cutting, also known as female genital mutilation or circumcision, is the forcible removal of a girl’s external genitals. Worldwide, 130 million women are living with the impacts of female genital cutting (FGC). Three million girls are at risk of being cut each year in Africa alone. The average age that cutting occurs is between 5 and 8 years old, although it can often take place later. FGC harms human health and contravenes children's and women’s rights. There are severe, negative impacts to cutting a girl.  These can include death at the time of the cut or from infection later on, inability to pass urine and menstrual blood, constant pain, difficult sexual intercourse, psychological problems and extreme obstetric complications.

Why does it happen?

FGC happens because it is a social norm held in place by an entire community. To conform to social pressure, parents expose their daughters to this dangerous, unnecessary practice. A girl who has not experienced FGC in a community where girls and women are expected to be cut can face serious social consequences. She could be seen as unclean, shunned by her community, not be able to find a husband, or generally be unable to participate in community life around her. It is very difficult for individuals or family to make the decision to abandon FGC alone - they will probably be excluded from all community activities. The whole community must be involved in making a decision to stop.

What is the risk in the UK?

Girls in countries where FGC is practised are not the only ones affected. Girls in diaspora communities from those countries could also be at risk. This includes communities in countries like the United Kingdom. Parents from practicing communities that have emigrated elsewhere may have their daughters flown back to their country of origin to be cut. This is often referred to as ‘holiday cutting’ as this generally happens over school holidays.

For more information, see Orchid Project, a UK charity working to end FGC. Their website has resources, facts and news about FGC.

Advice: If you are worried that a child may be at risk of FGC, contact the NSPCC anonymously on their 24 hour helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email

FORWARD and Daughters of Eve also provide support and information.


Infographic: Orchid Project