More than 125 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation, and 30 million more girls are at risk in the next decade, UNICEF said on Monday.
Although genital cutting is on the decline, the practice remains “almost universal” in some countries, said the UN Children Fund's report that spans 20 years of data across 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East.
A ghastly tradition
The tradition involves removal of some or all of a female's external genitalia.
The ritual is practiced by various faiths, including Christians, Muslims and followers of African traditional religions. Some believe it improves a girl's marriage prospects, or that it is more aesthetically pleasing.
Social acceptance is the most commonly cited reason for continuing the tradition, even though it is considered a violation of human rights, UNICEF found.
Laws are not enough to stop the practice entirely, and more people must speak out in order to eliminate it among certain ethnic groups, the researchers said.
The report also found that even though the genital cutting is often considered a form of patriarchal control, there is a similar level of support among men and women for stopping it.
The practice “is becoming less common in slightly more than half of the 29 countries studied,” said the report.
However, the tradition remains “remarkably persistent, despite nearly a century of attempts to eliminate it,” it said.
Where is it practiced?
The report found the highest rates in Somalia, where 98 per cent of females aged 15-49 have been cut, 96 per cent in Guinea, 93 per cent in Djibouti and 91 per cent in Egypt.
Prevalence of genital cutting among teenage girls has dropped by about half in Benin, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria.
However, there was “no discernible decline in Chad, Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Sudan or Yemen,” it said.
Tackling the issue
UNICEF said it should be open to greater public scrutiny, and called for groups that still practice the ritual to be exposed more to those that do not.
“The challenge now is to let girls and women, boys and men speak out loudly and clearly and announce they want this harmful practice abandoned,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director.AFP
Where is it still practised and how much (%age of females aged 15-49)?
Somalia: 98 per cent
Guinea: 96 per cent
Djibouti: 93 per cent
Egypt: 91 per cent