How experiences and attitudes relating to female circumcision vary according to age on arrival in Britain: a study among young Somalis in London

Ethn Health. 2004 Feb;9(1):75-100. doi: 10.1080/1355785042000202763.


Objective: To examine the association between age on arrival in Britain and experiences and attitudes relating to female circumcision among young, single Somalis living in London.

Design: The study population consisted of single male and female Somalis aged 16-22 years living in the Greater London area. Quantitative data were collected using a cross-sectional survey based on snowball sampling aiming to obtain data on 100 males and 100 females. Qualitative data were collected from 10 males and 10 infibulated females.

Results: Quantitative data were obtained for 94 females and 80 males. Living in Britain from a younger age was associated with increased assimilation in terms of language, dress and socialising. Seventy per cent of the females reported being circumcised with two-thirds of operations being infibulation. Those who were living in Britain before the usual age range for circumcision (before age six) were less likely to be circumcised (42%) than those who arrived after the usual age range for circumcision (11 or older) (91%). During in-depth interviews, health and sexual problems due to female circumcision were described with great emotion and interviewees acknowledged the association between the importance of virginity for marriage and circumcision. Half of males who arrived aged 11 or older wanted a circumcised wife compared with less than a quarter of those who arrived at a younger age. Eighteen per cent of female respondents and 43% of males intended to circumcise any daughters. Females were less likely than males to agree with the assumptions about sexuality and religion that underpin the practice. Substantial proportions of respondents perceived that their parents' expectations in terms of marriage and circumcision were more traditional than their own.

Conclusion: Living in Britain from a younger age appears to be associated with abandonment of female circumcision and with changes in the underlying beliefs on sexuality, marriage and religion that underpin it. Groups identified with more traditional views towards female circumcision include males, older generations, new arrivals and those who show few signs of social assimilation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Circumcision, Female*
  • Emigration and Immigration*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • London
  • Male
  • Social Adjustment
  • Somalia / ethnology