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Genital mutilation of children

We support the bodily integrity of all people as an inalienable human right and want to promote respect for the autonomous choices of individuals wherever possible. We therefore do not support non-medically necessary procedures to remove parts of the genitals of boys and girls and want to see all laws allowing such procedures repealed and the procedures themselves outlawed when conducted without consent.

In depth

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a non-medically necessary procedure to totally or partially remove the external female genitalia. This procedure can cause severe medical complications including bleeding, difficulties with urination, cysts, infections, childbirth, and an increase in infant mortality. In some cases the procedure can be fatal.

Approximately 200 million women and girls worldwide have undergone FGM. In the UK the Government estimates that there are approximately 170,000 women and girls living with the consequences of FGM with more than 20,000 a year thought to be at risk. In 2016 the NHS reported 9,000 attendances where FGM was either identified, treatment was given or a woman with FGM had given birth. Over 5,000 of these attendances were recorded in the system for the first time.

Since 1985, it has been a criminal offence to perform FGM in the UK. The Female Genital Mutilation Act (2003) made it a crime punishable by 14 years of imprisonment to aid, counsel, or procure FGM abroad on a UK national or permanent resident. However, despite the large number of women and girls receiving medical treatment due to FGM, there has not been a single prosecution in the UK under these laws.

Non-medical male circumcision, when the foreskin of the penis (most commonly of an infant child) is removed, is a lawful practice in the UK if there is consent from both parents. The majority of male circumcisions are carried out for religious reasons and are common practice in Jewish and Muslim communities. The procedure has no inherent medical benefits. On the contrary, it carries surgical risks and can lead to both psychological and sexual problems.

In May 2012, the Cologne regional appellate court in Germany ruled that the circumcision of young boys for non-medical reasons constitutes ‘bodily harm’, therefore rendering it unlawful. We welcomed the news; however the decision was subsequently overturned by a new law passed in December that year.

In 2018, Iceland considered legislation that would ban the performing of circumcision on infant males arguing that the practice is incompatible with the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child.

What we’re doing 

We have long campaigned for better education about FGM as part of our work to see full and comprehensive relationships and sex education (RSE) gain statutory status – at the moment nothing about FGM has to be taught in schools.

We have also supported the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) in frequently speaking out against genital mutilation at the UN Human Rights Council, and we have spoken out about male and female circumcision in the media.

Get involved

Humanists UK consults with its members on genital mutilation and many other scientific and ethical issues. We welcome your comments on these subjects, which help us to form our campaigns.

You can also research and take up these issues with your MP and/or local authority, or write to a newspaper. Our Take Action Toolkit has advice on how to go about this.

You can support Humanists UK’s campaigns by becoming a member. Campaigns cost money – quite a lot of money – and we need your financial support. Instead or in addition, you can make a donation to Humanists UK.

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