The government is planning on banning a cosmetic surgery called hymenoplasty across the UK.
It attempts to recreate a woman’s hymen, which in some cultures is linked to virginity, and has been described as a form of honour-based abuse. The procedure will be criminalised.
Minister for Care and Mental Health Gillian Keegan said the government was “committed to safeguarding vulnerable women and girls in this country”.
Hymenoplasty is available in clinics and can cost up to £3,000.
The procedure recreates a thin membrane known as the hymen which partially covers the entrance to the vagina. It is often done as a way to “repair” a hymen.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) says “the appearance of a hymen is not a reliable indication of intercourse”.
The practice of hymenoplasty is linked to conservative cultures which place a high value on virginity, with the expectation a virgin should bleed after sex on her wedding night.
The WHO says virginity testing is practised in at least 20 countries. It involves an intrusive vaginal examination to check if the hymen is intact.
The government promised at the end of last year to “introduce legislation to ban hymenoplasty at the earliest opportunity”.
It has now included amendments in the health and care bill which would criminalise “aiding or abetting” a person carrying out hymenoplasty and could result in up to five years in prison. It would also be a criminal offence to take a girl or woman overseas to have the procedure.
Last year when the bill was in the House of Commons, the government amended it to ban virginity testing after calling the practise “indefensible”.