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Honour-based Abuse, Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation

Page last updated: 21/09/2020

Honour-based abuse is a term used for justification of abuse and violence. It is often the collective term used to include Female Genital Mutilation and Forced Marriage. These are not crimes perpetrated by men only. Sometimes females will support, incite or assist. Younger family members may also undertake the abuse to protect senior family members.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

World Health Organisation definition

All procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

Forced Marriage

A forced marriage is where one or both people do not consent to marriage. They are pressurised or abused to force marriage. For people with learning disabilities or reduced capacity, they cannot consent. It is recognised in the UK as a form of domestic or child abuse; a serious abuse of human rights.

The pressure put on people to marry against their will may be:

  • physical: for example, threats, physical violence or sexual violence; and
  • emotional and psychological: for example, making someone feel like they are bringing 'shame' on their family.

Financial abuse, for example taking someone's wages, may also be a factor.

Breast Flattening (also known as breast ironing)

The process whereby pubescent girls' breasts are ironed, massaged and / or pounded down with hard / heated objects to make them disappear or delay their development. It is practised in all of Cameroon. It has also been reported in Benin, Ivory Coast, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Togo, Zimbabwe and Guinea-Conakry.

Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief

There is no single definition associated with child abuse linked to faith or belief.

The National Action Plan (Department for Education, 2012) includes the following:

  • witchcraft and spirit possession, demons or the devil acting through children or leading them astray (traditionally seen in some Christian beliefs);
  • the evil eye or djinns (traditionally known in some Islamic faith contexts);
  • Dakini (in the Hindu context);
  • ritual or muti murders where the killing of children is believed to bring supernatural benefits, or the use of their body parts is believed to produce potent magical remedies; and
  • use of belief in magic or witchcraft to create fear in children to make them more compliant when they are being trafficked for domestic slavery or sexual exploitation.

This is not an exhaustive list. There will be other examples where children have been harmed because adults think their actions have brought bad fortune.

Useful information

Female Genital Mutilation

Home Office


A free online training package dealing with FGM. Developed by the Home Office with Virtual College. Free online training to assist teachers, police, doctors, social workers and Border Force to identify and assist girls who are at risk of FGM. Provides safeguarding professionals with an overview of FGM and their responsibilities. Information on prevention and help for professionals to support those subjected to it. The training can be accessed by visiting the website: FGM Learning (2014)

Other resources

National FGM Centre

A partnership between Barnardo's and the Local Government Association. It aims to achieve a systems change in the provision of services for children and families affected by FGM. It is funded by the Department of Education as part of its Children's Social Care Innovation Programme. The Centre works closely with key partners from Local Authorities, Health, Education, Police, and the voluntary sector. In 2017, the Centre's remit extended to include Breast Ironing / Flattening and Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief.

The National FGM Centre published guidance for schools in 2019. It also produced a learning resource for professionals working with girls who could be at risk of FGM / have undergone FGM.

Various other organisations provide information about FGM – examples:

  • Essex Police - information and guidance, including on reporting guidelines

  • NSPCC - materials to help in recognising the signs of FGM

  • Barnardo's - interactive map, posters and other resources

Forced Marriage

Breast Flattening

Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief