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A dramatic increase in the number of women and girls undergoing FGM shows new FGM data

The number of girls and women undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) has increased by 15% in the past eight years, according to new data.

Figures from the UN children’s agency Unicef ​​show that more than 230 million girls and women have undergone FGM today, up from 200 million in 2016. The trend is for girls to be circumcised at a younger age, says Catherine Russell, executive director of UNICEF. .

“Female genital mutilation harms girls’ bodies, darkens their future and endangers their lives,” she said. “We are also seeing a worrying trend of more girls being subjected to this practice at a younger age, many before their fifth birthday. This reduces the time to intervene even further. We must strengthen efforts to end this harmful practice.”

The work to eliminate the practice by the UN target date of 2030 would need to happen 27 times faster than it is now, UNICEF said. FGM is not becoming increasingly common worldwide, but more girls are being born in countries where FGM is practiced compared to the rest of the world.

FGM involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and is a violation of human rights. In 2012 the The UN has passed a resolution to ban it.

About 60% of FGM cases – 144 million – occur in Africa, followed by 80 million in Asia and 6 million in the Middle East.

Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, Egypt, Sudan and Mali have the highest prevalence rates. They are also countries facing other pressing challenges, such as conflict, climate shocks and food insecurity, making it harder to implement programs to support girls, UNICEF said.

A graph showing the prevalence of FGM in countries around the world. Somalia has the highest percentage at 98%

Many African countries have experienced a steady decline in this practice in recent decades, but overall progress has stalled or been reversed.

In Gambia there was a bill to repeal the ban on FGM tabled in parliament this week, leaving the country embroiled in a debate over rights, religion and culture. In Sierra Leone, the practice remains legal, despite increasing pressure to criminalize it. Three girls died during cutting ceremonies in the West African country earlier this year.

Claudia Cappa, lead author of the Unicef ​​report, said: “Where the practice is concentrated, the majority of women and men say they want the practice to stop… but this growing opposition is not accompanied by a change in (behavior). ”

FGM practitioner Safia Ibrahim shows her cutting tools in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Photo: Brian Inganga/AP

Kenya, which criminalized the practice in 2011, has witnessed one steady decline on FGM, but activists remain concerned about progress.

Among the Somali community in northeastern Kenya, which is bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, anti-FGM enforcement is poor and progress has stalled. There have also been recent reports of revivals in Kenya’s central Murang’a region, where women over 30 are choosing to undergo the cut as a “return to culture”.

A move towards the medicalisation of the practice – where it is carried out by healthcare providers rather than traditional cutters in hospitals or at home – is making it harder to detect, campaigners say.

Esnahs Nyaramba, an anti-FGM activist from Kisii region, western Kenya, said she is receiving fewer calls for rescue than a decade ago. Tips from community members that the cut is taking place, which helped her mobilize local authorities to intervene, are becoming less common as the public ceremonies that used to accompany FGM have been abolished, even if the procedure has not .

“In Kisii, it is difficult to say for sure the trend because nowadays when the child gets a haircut, usually no one knows except the mother and the haircutter,” says Nyaramba.

Unicef ​​says more and more families are choosing to have their daughters circumcised at a younger age – sometimes as early as two years old – to reduce the physical damage and psychological trauma suffered by older girls. It is a trend that must be addressed, the agency said.

Cappa said: “The chances (of preventing this) have become smaller… so we need to take action at a higher level than before.”

Nimco Ali, the CEO of the Five Foundation, the global partnership to end FGM, said grassroots organizations fighting to end the practice need more funding.

“As a survivor, I know all about the devastating impact FGM has on women and girls,” Ali said. “The new estimate showing a massive increase of another 30 million affected is not only shocking but also personally devastating, especially when we know what works and we could have prevented it.”