The largest report yet into the
extent of female genital mutilation, or
cutting, has shed new light onto a practice
that affects tens of millions of women and
girls worldwide, U.N children's agency
There is some positive news in the new
UNICEF report, with data on trends revealing
that the practice is becoming less common in
more than half of the 29 countries where it is
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But some 30 million girls remain at risk of
being cut in the next decade unless efforts to
eliminate the practice make more headway.
More than 125 million girls and
women alive today have
undergone some form of
female genital mutilation in 29
countries across Africa and the
Middle East, according to the
report, "Female Genital
Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical
overview and exploration of
the dynamics of change."
The practice -- which can carry serious health
risks and is seen by the United Nations as a
human rights violation -- is found to a far
lesser degree in other parts of the world,
though the exact number of girls and women
affected is unknown, said the report,
Social acceptance and preservation of
virginity are the most commonly cited reasons
for carrying it out in most countries, among
men as well as women.
The adoption by the U.N. General Assembly
last December of a resolution intensifying
global efforts to eliminate female genital
mutilation marked "a milestone in global
efforts to end the practice," the report said.
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But cutting continues in some countries and
ethnic groups, despite decades-long efforts
to eliminate it -- and despite the fact that
laws banning female genital mutilation at all
ages have been passed in the majority of
In some communities it is seen as a religious
requirement, while in others it's dictated by
"In many countries, prevalence is highest
among Muslim girls and women. However,
the practice is also found among other
religious communities," the UNICEF report
Cutting is nearly universal in
Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and
Egypt, according to the report,
but affects only one in 100
girls and women in Cameroon
Some girls undergo the
practice while still babies,
while others are cut as young
girls or in their teens.
The degree of harm inflicted
by the practice also varies
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"In Somalia, Eritrea, Niger, Djibouti and
Senegal, more than one in five girls have
undergone the most radical form of the
practice, known as infibulation, which
involves the cutting and sewing of the
genitalia," the report said.
The downward trend in the practice is most
marked in countries where it is less
prevalent, the report said.
In Kenya and Tanzania, women age 45 to 49
are about three times more likely to have
been cut than girls age 15 to 19, UNICEF
found. In Benin, Central African Republic,
Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria, adolescent girls are
about half as likely to have been cut as
women age 45 to 49.
Other countries where the practice is more
widespread have also registered declines.
They include Burkina Faso and Ethiopia and,
to a lesser extent, Egypt, Eritrea, Guinea,
Mauritania and Sierra Leone, the report said.
It also highlighted a gap between the
support among women for female genital
mutilation and its prevalence.
"In most of the countries surveyed, (the)
majority of girls and women who have
undergone the practice do not see benefits
to it and think that the practice should stop,"
UNICEF statistics and monitoring specialist
Claudia Cappa is quoted as saying.
"More mothers are aware" that female
genital mutilation and cutting "can lead to
their daughter's, or a girl's, death," she says.
"So, there is a better understanding of the
consequences, which, in itself, is very
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But many mothers who oppose the practice
still have their daughters cut because of
societal expectations, the study said,
indicating that "efforts to end the practice
need to go beyond a shift in individual
attitudes and address entire communities."
The study also found that efforts by the many
agencies campaigning for change are
differentiated for various ethnic groups, some
of which cross national boundaries, since
cutting is much more common in some groups
Men and boys, as well as girls, should be
encouraged to talk about the practice, the
report said. "This is especially important
since the data indicate that girls and women
tend to consistently underestimate the share
of boys and men who want (female genital
mutilation) to end."
Another factor in eliminating cutting is
promoting education and exposure to other
communities, it added, with urban, wealthier
and more educated families less likely to
impose the practice on their daughters.
"As many as 30 million girls are at risk of
being cut over the next decade if current
trends persist," said Geeta Rao Gupta, deputy
executive director of UNICEF.
"If, in the next decade, we work together to
apply the wealth of evidence at our disposal,
we will see major progress," she said. "That
means a better life and more hopeful
prospects for millions of girls and women,
their families and entire communities."