Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery: Legitimate Refinement or Illegal Mutilation ?

Ruth Gaffney-Rhys

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The aim of this article is to assess whether Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery (FGCS), which refers to procedures which change the structure and appearance of healthy female genitalia for non-medical reasons, violates the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, in the light of CPS guidance issued in 2019 and literature regarding the motivations of women seeking FGCS and its effectiveness. The paper concludes that FGCS does, prima facie, constitute FGM and argues that the medical exception contained in the legislation should seldom be available - but based on CPS guidance, a criminal prosecution will rarely be in the public interest. The article ends by asserting that the distinction drawn in practice (if not in law) between the treatment of western and non-western women is problematic, not only because it is discriminatory, but because tolerating FGCS may serve to legitimise FGM and result in the circumvention of the FGM Act 2003.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244-262
Number of pages19
JournalEuropean Journal of Health Law
Issue number3
Early online date21 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • FGCS
  • Law
  • FGM
  • Female Genital Mutilation
  • Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery


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