Female Genital Mutilation: Millions of Girls at Risk, UNICEF Says

Declines in the practice seen in Africa.

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A report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that 30 million girls face the risk of female genital mutilation in countries where it is practiced. The report also states that more than 125 million females alive today have undergone this harmful practice, this despite the fact that a preponderance of people in the countries where it is prevalent oppose the harmful procedure.

UNICEF based its findings on surveys conducted in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East. It published its report this month entitled, ‘Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change.’

UNICEF found that although a majority of people in some countries were against genital mutilation and the practice was illegal, customs still remained strong in those countries. UNICEF said this is probably due to the fact there is a disconnect between people’s personal views and the entrenched societal norms and mores which allows the custom to flourish.

Another factor that may contribute to its continued existence, according to UNICEF, is the fact that people do not have open and honest discussions about this tradition because of the sensitive and private nature of the issue.

“FGM/C (Female Genital mutilation/Cutting) is a violation of a girl’s rights to health, well-being and self-determination,” Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, said recently. “What is clear from this report is that legislation alone is not enough. 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.”

The UNICEF report stated that its surveys found both men and women expressed opposition to the practice and, in fact, in some countries men led the women in expressing opposition. In Chad, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, it was more males than females who wanted to see an end to this harmful practice.

UNICEF, in its report stated that when you look at general trends, girls are less likely to be subjected to female genital mutilation today than in the past, especially in Africa.

The survey found that in Kenya and Tanzania, girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are three times less likely to have been cut than women between ages 45 and 49. Prevalence of the custom has also fallen by as much as almost half among adolescent girls in Benin, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia, and Nigeria.

In contrast, in other countries, according to this report, the practice remains deeply entrenched in spite of legislation and government efforts to stop it and despite the health dangers female genital mutilation poses to girls.

Countries that practice it unabated are Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, and Egypt. The reports says approximately 9 out of 10 females between the ages of 15 and 49 have been cut. The report also states that in Chad, Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Sudan and Yemen the practice remains strong.

UNICEF report also found that while the practice is often seen as a patriarchal effort to control women’s sexuality, it is often women themselves who are at the forefront to keep it alive. In some countries, including Guinea, Sierra Leone and Chad, more women than men oppose its abandonment.

The most common reason women give for continuing genital cutting is to gain social acceptance. Researchers at the UN found that many mothers who voiced opposition to genital mutilation have had their own daughters go through the custom.

“This shows the gap between attitudes and behavior,” Claudia Cappa, lead author of the UNICEF report said. “What you think as an individual is not enough to put an end to the practice because of social pressures and obligations,” she added.

The United Nations World Health Organization states that female genital mutilation involves partial or total removal “of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.” It further states that the custom of female genital mutilation “interferes with the natural function of girls’ and women’s bodies. The practice causes severe pain and has several immediate and long-term health consequences, including difficulties in childbirth also causing dangers to the child.”

Despite these dangers, according to UNICEF, female genital mutilation puts millions of girls at risk in the countries where it is practiced.

Perviz Walji

Related Article: Female Genital Mutilation and Its Shocking Implications

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