What is a harmful practice?
The National FGM Centre defines harmful practices as persistent practices and behaviours that are motivated by discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, age and other characteristics as well as multiple and/or intersecting forms of discrimination that often involve violence and cause physical and/or psychological harm or suffering.
Harmful Practices include FGM, so-called ‘honour-based’ abuse, and forced marriage.
A forced marriage is one in which one or both people do not consent to the marriage, but are coerced into it by their families or their community.
In a forced marriage, one or both participants enter the marriage without giving their consent. They go through with the wedding under pressure from their families.
The pressure put on people to marry against their will may be:
- physical: for example, threats, physical violence or sexual violence
- emotional and psychological: for example, making someone feel like they are bringing ‘shame’ on their family
- Financial abuse, for example taking someone’s wages
Forced marriage is illegal in the UK.
So-called ‘honour-based’ abuse
Honour Based Abuse can take many forms, including child marriage, virginity testing, enforced abortion, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, as well as physical, sexual and economic abuse and coercive control.
Honour Based Abuse is often thought of as a ‘cultural’, ‘traditional’ or ‘religious’ problem. It can affect people of all ages, but often begins early in the family home.
Perpetrators are often partners or ex-partners, or family members. Most victims experience abuse from multiple perpetrators, including parents and siblings.
The NHS defines FGM as a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but there's no medical reason for this to be done. It's 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. It's illegal in the UK and is child abuse. It's very painful and can seriously harm the health of women and girls. It can also cause long-term problems with sex, childbirth and mental health.
There are no health benefits to FGM and it can cause serious harm, including:
- constant pain
- pain and difficulty having sex
- repeated infections, which can lead to infertility
- bleeding, cysts and abscesses
- problems peeing or holding pee in (incontinence)
- depression, flashbacks and self-harm
- problems during labour and childbirth, which can be life threatening for mother and baby
The NHS offers the following guidance if you have had FGM or you're worried that you or someone you know is at risk.
- If someone is in immediate danger, you can contact the police immediately by dialling 999.
- If you're concerned that someone may be at risk, you can contact the NSPCC helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email@example.com.
- If you're under pressure to have FGM performed on your daughter, ask a GP, your health visitor or another healthcare professional for help, or contact the NSPCC helpline.
- If you have had FGM, you can get help from a specialist NHS gynaecologist or FGM service – ask a GP, your midwife or any other healthcare professional about services in your area.
- You can read about National FGM Support Clinics and where to find them.