July 22, 2014 – The number of girls who will undergo female genital mutilation is set to increase by at least 15 percent in the coming decades, data released on Tuesday by the UN children’s agency shows.
The practice of FGM is most common in 29 countries in the Middle East and Africa with some 133 million women and girls living today having undergone the practice, according to UNICEF.
The risks of FGM, which is typically carried out between infancy and the age of 15, include infertility, complications in childbirth and an increased risk of newborn deaths.
“In addition to excruciating pain, cutting can cause girls to bleed profusely,” the agency said. “It may also lead to infections, including HIV, since typically the same unsterilized blade is used for all girls being cut.”
While the practice has been reduced in a number of the 29 countries, 90 percent or more girls born in Egypt, Djibouti, Guinea and Somalia have been cut.
UNICEF projects that by 2050 one in three child births will occur in the 29 countries where FGM is practiced with almost 500 million more women and girls living in those countries than there are today.
The agency projects that if the rate of decline in FGM is maintained, the number of girls affected annually will go from 3.6 million today to 4.1 million in 2050 but if there is no progress it will increase to 6.6 million.
More than half the female population in Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gambia and Egypt think the practice should continue but in 19 of the 29 countries most women and girls think it should end, according to UNICEF’s research.
Prevalence in Somalia stands at 98 percent, where the number of girls and women will more than double by 2050 while in Mali, where prevalence is 89 per cent, the female population will nearly triple.
UNICEF cites Kenya and Tanzania as positive examples – countries where FGM was highly prevalent in 1990, but despite a surge in the number of women and girls born since then, the number who have undergone FGM has declined from 1990 figures.
It says that “finding ways to make hidden attitudes” favoring the abandonment of FGM more visible is key to eliminating the practice.
- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz