Three Million Girls Still Undergo Genital Cutting, but Change is Possible

Monday, July 26 2010

New York, Nov 25 2005: Although an estimated 3 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East still suffer genital cutting every year, the age-old ritual could be eliminated within a single generation through open public discussion and legal action, according to a new report by the United Nations Children's fund">UNICEF.

"Real and lasting change is possible," said Marta Santos Pais, director of UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, which issued the report, Changing a Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.

"Change will happen when communities - including girls, boys, men and women - are empowered by knowledge to make choices that are healthy and empowering to individuals and societies," she added.

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is a traditional practice believed to enhance a girl's beauty, honour, marriageability, social status and chastity. Parents encourage cutting so that the family honour and the girl's best interest are protected. In the 28 countries where female FGM/C is performed, prior estimates  suggested that 2 million girls undergo the procedure yearly. The new  estimate of 3 million does not reflect an increase, but improved data gathering, UNICEF said.

Although there is evidence that in some countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Yemen), the practice is declining, eliminating FGM/C on a large scale will require far greater efforts by governments, civil society and the international community, the report states.

The report looks at some of the most promising strategies that are helping communities to abandon the practice, such as UNICEF-supported  initiatives in Egypt which guide communities to engage in non-judgmental public dscussions to openly confront the issue, support them in the public commitment to abandon the practice, and spread their message to neighboring communities.

The involvement of opinion leaders, including traditional and religious leaders, can play a decisive role in stimulating public debate, the report found -- if health personnel, traditional healers, social workers and teachers are trained and supported to discourage the practice.

From country to country, the percentages of the female population that is cut, the types of cutting carried out and the age at which it begins varies widely.

In addition to causing severe pain, FGM/C can result in prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and death. Many girls and women suffer in silence. Because of the private nature of the infliction, it is impossible to estimate the death toll.

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