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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Breast Ironing

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is defined by the World Health Organisation as:

“all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.

FGM is considered child abuse in the UK and is a grave violation of the human rights of girls and women.

It has intolerable long-term physical and emotional consequence for the survivors and has been illegal in the UK for over 30 years. It is estimated that 137,000 girls and women in the UK are affected by this practice, but this is likely to be an underestimation.

Mandatory Reporting

On the 31st October 2015 a new duty was introduced that requires health and social care professionals and teachers to report ‘known’ cases of FGM in girls aged under 18 to the police. For example, if a doctor sees that a girl aged under 18 has had FGM they will need to make a report to the police. Similarly if a girl tells her teacher that she has had FGM, the teacher will need to report this to the police. A referral should also be made to Children’s Social Care.

Local guidance and procedure for safeguarding girls and women at risk


  • Free online training is available via the BSCB website
  • Buckinghamshire County Council organises a training session on FGM once or twice a year through the charity ‘Agency for Culture and Change Management’ (ACCM UK). For more information about the course or to apply for a place please contact Vanessa Elmes by email, or by phone 01296 387077.

Further information

All professionals:

  • Female Genital Mutilation: Guidance for Schools (National FGM Centre, 2019)
  • Statutory Guidance on FGM (HM Government, April 2016): This multi-agency guidance on FGM should be read and followed by all persons and bodies in England and Wales who are under statutory duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and vulnerable adults
  • FGM resource pack (Home Office, updated May 2016): This resource is designed to highlight examples from areas where effective practice has been identified and to emphasise what works in fighting FGM.
  •  FGM Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (Health & Wellbeing Board)
  • NSPCC Learning Guide (NSPCC, updated July 2019)

Resources to use with the public to raise awareness:

  • Female Genital Mutilation: The facts (leaflet on FGM)
  • Together we can end FGM poster and wallet card
  • A statement opposing FGM (often known as the health passport) is available in 11 languages and can be taken abroad to explain the criminal status of FGM in the UK. It outlines what FGM is, the legislation and penalties involved and the help and support available.
  • Female Genital Mutilation: FAQs – A Campaigners Guide for Young People: This leaflet by FORWARD was published in 2012 so does not reflect the most recent legislation. However, it is a well presented and clearly written guide that explores questions such as how FGM is different from male circumcision, why FGM is different from cosmetic surgeries such as ‘designer vaginas’ and why people in the west have a right to impose their cultural views on other cultures.

Teaching resources for education professionals:

  • The FGM Game is a FORWARD teaching resource made by young people, for young people. It is for use in secondary schools as part of PSHE and is suitable for use with pupils in years 9-11.
  • KS3 FGM lesson developed by Islington Council.
  • Action Aid FGM resources for schools:

Breast ironing, also known as breast flattening, is the pounding and massaging of a pubescent girl’s breasts using hard or heated objects to try to stop them developing, or to make them disappear entirely.

Breast ironing is typically carried out by the girl’s mother with the belief that she is:

  • protecting her daughter from sexual harassment and / or rape;
  • preventing the risk of early pregnancy, which would tarnish the family name;
  • preventing her daughter from being forced into marriage, so she will have the opportunity to continue with her education.

This practice has been documented primarily in Cameroon, but is also practiced in Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Togo, Benin and Guinea.

Young girl crying in doorwayWhile it is estimated that 3.8 million young women are vulnerable to breast ironing on a global scale, approx. one thousand 9 – 15 year old girls are currently thought to be at risk in the UK. According to the UN, 58% of perpetrators will be the victims’ mother.

Breast ironing is extremely painful and can cause damage to the tissue. Other possible health implications include breast infections, the formation of abscesses, malformed breasts or the eradication of one or both breasts.

The practice ranges widely in its severity, from using heated leaves to press and massage the breasts, through to using a scalding grinding stone to crush the budding gland. Due to the range of this activity, the short and long term health consequences for these young women vary from limited to significant.

While there is no specific law within the UK around Breast Ironing, it is a form of physical abuse. If professionals are concerned that a child may be at risk of, or is suffering, significant harm, they much follow the procedures detailed on our Professionals: Reporting a Concern page.