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Female genital mutilation and cutting: the latest numbers

Fatima, 7, sits on a bed in her home in Karenssa Village, in Amibara District, Afar Region. She was subjected to FGM/C when she was 1 year old. UNICEF/NYHQ2009-2260/Kate Holt

One hundred and twenty-five million. It's a big number -- six zeroes in 125,000,000. As a population figure, it adds up to more people than there are in Mexico and almost as many as are living in Japan.

According to a new report from UNICEF, 125 million also represents the number of girls and women alive today who have undergone female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C). And 30 million is the number of girls still at risk of being subjected to FGM/C, an age-old practice that is -- even in its mildest form -- the anatomical equivalent of a penis amputation.

These are daunting numbers. But according to UNICEF's latest report, the practice is now steadily declining in more than half of the 29 countries where FGM/C persists. And in most countries where it is still being practiced, the majority of girls and women want to see FGM/C eliminated.

"The traditional practice of female genital mutilation/cutting has proven remarkably persistent, despite nearly a century of attempts to eliminate it," reads the executive summary of the 194-page report. "Yet the growing number of reports of public commitments to end FGM/C and its actual abandonment by communities across a diverse range of countries are strong indications that the practice can indeed become a vestige of the past."

UNICEF's latest report is its most comprehensive yet, drawing from nationally-representative surveys from 29 countries where FGM/C still persists. It also includes new data on girls under 15.

Here are a few highlights from the findings:

  • FGM/C is still nearly universal in Somalia (98% of girls and women affected), Guinea (96%), Djibouti (93%) and Egypt (91%)
  • Of the 29 countries where FGM/C persists, it is now least prevalent in Cameroon and Uganda. In both countries, only one per cent of girls and women have undergone the practice.

  • In half of the 29 countries with available data, most girls were cut before their 5th birthday

  • In Mauritania, girls are typically cut at just one month old

  • In Egypt, Kenya and the Sudan, FGM/C is mostly performed by medical professionals as opposed to traditional practitioners. (In Egypt, 77 per cent of affected girls were cut by a professional health-care provider).

  • In Liberia, the poorest girls and women are twice as likely to have undergone FGM/C than those from wealthy households

  • In Ethiopia, 41% of uneducated girls and women support FGM/C. Among those with secondary or higher education, only 5% support it.

  • In Kenya and Tanzania, the practice is on the decline, with women between 45 and 49 three times more likely to have been cut than girls between 15 and 19

  • In Djibouti, Eritrea, Niger, Senegal and Somalia, more than one in five girls have undergone the most radical form of the practice, known as infibulation, which involves cutting and sewing the genitals. In Somalia, 63% of affected girls had their genitals sewn closed.

  • In Eritrea, 60% of girls and women consider FGM/C to be a religious requirement

  • Nearly every girl and women in Benin (93%), Ghana (93%), Tanzania (92%) and Burkina Faso (90%) think FGM/C should end

  • In Chad, Guinea and Sierra Leone, substantially more men than women would like to see the practice of FGM/C eliminated

Jennifer Yang is the Star’s global health reporter. She previously worked as a general assignment reporter and won a NNA in 2011 for her explanatory piece on the Chilean mining disaster. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar


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UNICEF together with all the Governments of the world must put a stop on this horrendous crime now ... It's sickening and it's enough!!!

and why are we allowing male infant circumcision?? It is also mutilation. It is a crime against a helpless child who cannot give consent. It should not be allowed, in spite of what some religions dictate.

A cultural thing that's too difficult to fathom in this part of the world?

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