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Ethics briefings
  1. Martin Davies,
  2. Sophie Brannan,
  3. Eleanor Chrispin,
  4. Veronica English,
  5. Rebecca Mussell,
  6. Julian Sheather,
  7. Ann Sommerville

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Female genital mutilation: UK

Earlier this year the UK government published comprehensive multi-agency guidance to tackle and prevent female genital mutilation (FGM).1 In response to this, the British Medical Association (BMA) has undertaken a significant revision of its main guidance on FGM to focus on the role of doctors in eradicating the practice.

FGM is a collective term used for a range of practices involving the removal or alteration of parts of healthy female genitalia for non-therapeutic reasons. The WHO has described FGM as ‘a form of violence against girls and women that has serious physical and psychological consequences which adversely affect health and is a reflection of discrimination against women and girls’.2 Different degrees of mutilation are practised by a variety of cultural groups, and the most common age for a girl to be mutilated is between 7 and 9 years in the UK. It is most likely to occur over the summer holidays, with the girl being taken overseas, although there have been media reports of an increasing number being carried out in the UK.3

FGM is considered a form of child abuse and is a criminal offence in the UK. Despite this, it was estimated that over 21 000 girls under the age of 15 years, in England and Wales, were at high risk of genital mutilation in 2005 (the most recent data available).1 Precise figures for the number of girls and women who have undergone or who are at risk of genital mutilation in the UK are, however, hard to establish due to the secrecy surrounding the practice. Government guidance notes that ‘it is possible that, due to population growth and immigration from practising countries… FGM is significantly more prevalent than these figures suggest.’1 The secrecy around the procedure has also meant that criminal prosecutions under Female Genital …

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