In scenes aired on Monday’s (25 May) episode of EastEnders, the BBC soap touched upon the subject of female genital mutilation - also know as FGM - as part of an upcoming storyline.
The soap is set to explore the devastating impact of FGM - which is illegal in the UK - in a new storyline involving character Mila Marwa, played by Ruhtxjiaïh Bèllènéa.
Monday’s episodes showed Mila explaining to Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth) that her mum Nyangi (Lucy Vandi) is taking sister Kioni (Florisa Kamara) away to be “cut”.
Mila said to Kathy: “You’d call it FGM,” before telling her that she herself underwent FGM when she was younger.
But what is FGM and where can people go for support?
Here’s what you need to know.
What is FGM?
The NHS explains that FGM “is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but there's no medical reason for this to be done.”
“FGM is carried out for various cultural, religious and social reasons within families and communities in the mistaken belief that it'll benefit the girl in some way (for example, as a preparation for marriage or to preserve her virginity),” adds the NHS.
However, there are no acceptable reasons that justify FGM and it is a harmful practice that has no health benefits.
It's illegal in the UK and is child abuse. It's an offence to:
- perform FGM (including taking a child abroad for FGM)
- help a girl perform FGM on herself in or outside the UK
- help anyone perform FGM in the UK
- help anyone perform FGM outside the UK on a UK national or resident
- fail to protect a girl for whom you're responsible from FGM
Anyone who performs FGM can face up to 14 years in prison and anyone found guilty of failing to protect a girl from FGM can face up to 7 years in prison.
FGM may also be known as female circumcision or cutting, as well as by other terms, such as sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan, among others.
It is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts.
FGM is a very painful procedure and can seriously harm the health of women and girls. It can also cause long-term problems with sex, childbirth and mental health.
It is often performed by traditional circumcisers or cutters who do not have any medical training, and anaesthetics and antiseptics are not generally used.
FGM is often carried out using knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades, and often happens against a girl's will without her consent.
What are the effects of FGM?
The NHS explains that 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
- depression, flashbacks and self-harm
- problems during labour and childbirth, which can be life threatening for mother and baby
Some girls also die from blood loss or infection as a direct result of the procedure.
How to access support
Help is available if you have had FGM or you're worried that you or someone you know is at risk.
If someone is in immediate danger, contact the police immediately by dialling 999.
If you're concerned that someone may be at risk, contact the NSPCC helpline on 0800 028 3550 or [email protected]
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 also get help from a specialist NHS gynaecologist or FGM service. You can ask a GP, your midwife or any other healthcare professional about services in your area.