Harmful Practices

Female genital mutilation (FGM)

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed. It is also known as female circumcision or cutting, and by other terms, such as sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan, among others. FGM is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts.

FGM is illegal in the UK and is child abuse. It is very painful and can seriously harm the physical and mental health of women and girls.

FGM is carried out for a number of cultural, religious and social reasons. Some families and communities believe that FGM will benefit the girl in some way, such as preparing them for marriage or childbirth. However, FGM is a harmful practice that isn't required by any religion and there are no health benefits.


FGM is illegal. Under the FGM Act 2003, a person is guilty of an offence if they excise, infibulate or otherwise mutilate the whole or any part of a girl’s or woman’s labia majora, labia minora or clitoris, except for necessary operations performed by a registered medical professional on physical and mental health grounds.

It is also an offence to assist a girl to perform FGM on herself. Any person found guilty of an offence under the Act will be liable to a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment or/and a fine.
The Serious Crime Act 2015 brought in additional requirements:

  • Duty to notify the police of FGM (mandatory reporting effective from 31st October 2015): a duty on those who work in ‘regulated professions’ namely healthcare professionals, teachers and social care workers, to notify the police when, in the course of their work, they discover that an act of FGM appears to have been carried out on a girl who is under 18. Failing to comply with the duty will be dealt with via existing disciplinary measures, which may include referral to the professional regulator and/or Disclosure and Barring Service as appropriate.
  • Anonymity for victims: lifelong anonymity for alleged victims of FGM.
  • Duty to protect a girl: there is a new offence of failing to protect a girl under the age of 16 from FGM. A person is liable if they are ‘responsible’ (possess parental responsibility) for a girl or have assumed responsibility for caring for a girl at the time when the offence is committed against her (this can include a Local Authority who has parental responsibility). 
  • FGM Protection Orders: the high court or family courts can make a protection order, which can be used to protect a girl who may be at risk of an FGM offence or a girl to whom FGM has been committed. It is a criminal offence to breach the order and the penalty is a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment or as a civil breach punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment.


Practice note on FGM mandatory reporting [PDF] (file size 165.76 KB)

FGM resource pack  on the GOV.UK website
Register for FGM e-learning on the Home Office website
FGM information on the NSPCC website
FGM guidance on the National FGM Centre website


Child abuse linked to faith and belief

Child abuse linked to faith or belief can be open to several different interpretations. This section focuses on children and young people accused of being a witch or of witchcraft and being abused because it is believe that they are “possesed” by evil spirits (spirit possession). Abuse linked to faith or belief is detrimental to the health and wellbeing of children and young people and can have serious consequences.

Useful information

Key questions and pointers whilst assessing risk for a child when spirit possession is the issue

If the family state that a child is possessed it is important to be able to explore this:

With parents:

  • Why they feel this?
  • Have they sought advice from any faith leaders? Imams? Church? Faith leaders overseas?
  • What advice have they been given?
  • If the advice has been to pray – what does this look like? Does the child pray? Do other family members, community members gather to pray? Where is the child when they are praying?
  • Some families get the child to wear amulets etc (called tabiz in the Bengali culture, clue in the Caribbean culture). If this is the case, how long does the child wear it for? What if the child decides to take it off? What is it doesn’t work?
  • If there are certain rituals that take place, what do they look like?
  • What if this doesn’t work and doesn’t “cure” their child? What is the next step?
    It's important to remember that deliverance or exorcising of spirits can range from praying, to beating, starvation, bloodletting and even killing. It is therefore important to be able to ascertain what a family’s next step will be. Chances are they won’t tell you, but important to know that there will be a next step. Does this mean that the spirit is stronger than first believed?


With siblings: What is their understanding of “possessed”? Do they believe their sister is possessed and why – what changes in behaviour, or is it simply because the parents say so? What is their understanding of how one can help “cure” their sister? Do they partake in these rituals/prayers/activities? How do they feel about this? Explore if they are scared that the same will happen to them.


With the young person themselves: What is the young person's views and understanding of being possessed? Explore further what they think of the accuser/parents saying he/she is possessed. What does prayer; ritual look like? What does the young person believe will cure them? What if that doesn’t work? What does the young person think will be the next step? Do his/her siblings’ or other family members also think he/she is possessed? What are their wishes and fears?


Honour Based Violence

So called “honour crime”, “honour-based violence” or “izzat” (mainly a South Asian term) embrace a variety of crimes of violence mainly perpetrated towards girls and women, including assault, imprisonment and murder where the person is being punished by their family or their community. The family or community are punishing them for undermining what they believe to be the correct code of behaviour.

Failure to adhere to the correct code of behaviour is an indicator to the family that the person cannot be controlled to conform and this brings “shame” to the family.
“Honour-based violence” usually occurs with some degree of approval by family and/ community members and it has an international dimension as victims can be taken overseas where the violence is then perpetrated. It can also be a trigger for a forced marriage.

Worried about a child or young person?

If you want to report any abuse or discuss concerns in relation to children and young people please contact:

Hammersmith & Fulham - 020 8753 6610
Kensington and Chelsea - socialservices@rbkc.gov.uk or tel: 020 7361 3013
Westminster - accesstochildrensservices@westminster.gov.uk or tel: 020 7641 4000

In an emergency call the police on 999.