UK: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Act

Women's National Commission
FGM has been a specific criminal offence in the United Kingdom since the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act was passed in 1985.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a serious violation of the human rights of young girls and women and can pose very serious life long health problems.
Section 1(1)(a) of the 1985 Act makes it an offence “to excise, infibulate or otherwise mutilate the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person”. It is not an offence to carry out the acts mentioned in section 1(1)(a) on oneself, but section 1(1)(b) makes it an offence to aid, abet, counsel or procure the performance by a person of such acts on herself. An offence under section 1(1) is punishable with up to 5 years imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both. Section 2 of the 1985 Act provides an exemption for necessary surgical operations and operations carried out in connection with childbirth. However, the exemption only applies if the operation is carried out by a registered medical practitioner or registered midwife or a person training to be one.

Despite the 1985 Act, horrifyingly there have been no prosecutions for FGM in the UK. This is very worrying as based on figures gathered from some of the practising communities throughout the UK, it is conservatively estimated that approximately 20,000 girls are at risk of experiencing it . Evidence also suggests that people utilise a loophole in this law by taking young girls abroad temporarily to carry out FGM. Closing this loophole is a move, which has been supported by activists for years and was a recommendation of an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health reporting in 2000. This was one of a series of recommendations regarding FGM, which included recommendations to strengthen the law and the development of information and media campaigns which will target specific groups.

The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, the result of a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Ann Clwyd MP on 11th December 2002, gives effect to some of these recommendations. The 2003 Act, which is due to come in to force on 4th March 2004:

· repeals and re-enacts the 1985 Act. The short title of the Act describes more accurately the prohibited acts and removes any suggestion of acceptability that the word “circumcision” might imply;

· gives extra-territorial effect to the existing provisions of the 1985 Act. This means that any of the prohibited acts performed outside the UK by a UK national or permanent UK resident will be an offence under domestic law and able to be tried in the courts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (the Bill does not extend to Scotland); and

· increases the maximum penalty, on conviction on indictment, for FGM from 5 to 14 years’ imprisonment. Other than life imprisonment, this is the highest sentence that can be imposed.

Throughout the passage of the FGM Bill the WNC, through its FGM Sub-group has been working closely with the Home Office, the Department responsible for the criminal law in this area. At the invitation of the Home Office, members of the FGM Sub-group have also been closely involved in discussions regarding implementation and the planned media strategy with all relevant departments, namely the Department of Health, the Home Office and the Department for Education and Skills. We are very proud of our role in this work and excited at the prospect of a continued collaborative effort with Government to ensure awareness regarding the FGM Act spreads throughout the community.

A high level conference is being organised by the Agency for Culture and Change Management for Thursday 13th May 2004, at Guys Campus, London, SE1 9RT, other conferences are planned for Cardiff and Birmingham. The aim of the conferences is to raise awareness about female genital mutilation, its social, health and human rights implications. The conference will also highlight and promote the new Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and implications to practitioners in the UK.

For further details please contact the Administrative Officer on 0114 275 0193 or visit The Conference will be opened by Baroness Scotland, Minister of State at the Home Office. An electronic version of the FGM Act and Explanatory Notes can be found on the HMSO website.