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Harmful traditional practices are forms of violence which have been committed primarily against women and girls in certain communities and societies for so long that they are considered, or presented by perpetrators, as part of accepted cultural practice.

The most common are

  • forced or early marriage
  • so called 'honour' based violence
  • female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM).

Here you can find information on the link between harmful traditional practices and health inequalities, as well as actions that can be taken to address this.

  • There are strong connections between harmful traditional practices and domestic abuse.

Forced marriage

  • The UK Forced Marriage Unit reported that there were 1,196 possible forced marriages in 2017 and 78% of these involved female victims.
  • Younger women and girls are particularly at risk of forced marriage. 65% of all cases referred to the UK Forced Marriage Unit in 2017 involved those under the age of 18. The largest proportion of cases involved 18-21 year old victims.
  • People with a learning disability were involved in 12% of cases referred.

Female genital mutilation (FGM)

  • An estimated 103,000 women aged 15 to 49 living in England and Wales have undergone FGM.

Honour killings

  • Police estimate that 12 women are killed in honour killings a year in the UK, although this is likely to be an underestimate.

Harmful traditional practices and health inequalities

Harmful traditional practices occur across all sexes, sexual identities and genders. They are not unique to a particular culture or religion.

Some of the motives for forced marriage and/or honour based violence have been identified as

  • families controlling unwanted sexual behaviour or sexual orientation
  • preventing relationships out with the community
  • ensuring care for disabled children or adults
  • protecting the family ‘honour’.

These are forms of domestic and sometimes child abuse. Unlike ‘typical’ domestic abuse, family members and the extended family are often involved. As well as the physical, sexual and psychological health impacts, victims can be forced to leave education or employment.

This results in isolation, limited career opportunities, financial dependence and suffering from the emotional impact that this brings.

There is limited evidence to determine the extent of people affected by female genital mutilation (FGM) in Scotland. Whilst survivors of FGM are found in some communities in Scotland, not all women and girls born in countries or communities where it is practised are affected or at risk.

FGM has no health benefits and it harms girls and women in many ways. The immediate health consequences include

  • severe pain
  • haemorrhage
  • infection
  • urinary retention
  • injury and damage to adjacent tissue and other organs
  • emotional and psychological shock.

In some cases, FGM can lead to death. In the long term, it can lead to recurrent sexual, psychological and physiological problems, including problems during childbirth.

We have created guidance for health workers on the impacts of harmful traditional practices and how staff can identify and respond to those who have experienced them.

National and local actions

If you suspect that someone may be affected by harmful traditional practices, it is your responsibility to introduce the subject sensitively and ask them.

As a professional working with someone affected by harmful practices, you can get support by calling Scotland’s domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline (external site) on 0800 027 1234.

Information on forced marriage and FGM for the public, including support organisations for female and male victims, is available at One Scotland (external site).

Female genital mutilation (FGM)

The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 (external site) made it a criminal offence to have FGM carried out in Scotland or abroad.

In 2016, the Scottish Government released the national action plan to prevent and eradicate FGM.

The national action plan is supported by multi-agency guidance on responding to FGM (external site) which provides information for health workers and agencies.

FGM Aware also have information and resources on tackling FGM (external site), which can be used locally.

Forced marriage

Forced Marriage Protection Orders were introduced in the Forced Marriage etc. (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Act 2011. These aim to protect those being forced to marry, or those already in a forced marriage.

Forcing someone into a marriage became a criminal offence in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

Information on forced marriage legislation, along with statutory and practitioner guidance, are provided within the Scottish Government's violence against women and girls (VAWG) policy.

Local contacts

Each local NHS Board has an Executive Lead and Operational Lead for gender based violence (GBV). You can contact your local lead for information on local policies, training opportunities and support for staff.

Support services for the public

Members of the public can be directed towards Scotland's Service Directory on NHS inform which provides information on