More than 125 million women and girls alive today have undergone genital mutilation, with 30 million more at risk in the next decade, UNICEF reported on Monday.
While genital ‘cutting’ has seen a decline, a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund – which compiles 20 years of data across 29 different countries – has found that the practice in itself remains “almost universal”.
Laws have been found insufficient in preventing the ritual from taking place, with researchers encouraging more people to speak out more. The report claims that the tradition remains “remarkably persistent, despite nearly a century of attempts to eliminate it.”
“As many as 30 million girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade if current trends persist,” it continued.
Main reasons for the continuation of genital cutting is social acceptance. However, the report did cite that the practice “is becoming less common in slightly more than half of the 29 countries studied,” and that “overall support for the practice is declining.
The traditional practice of genital mutation can involve anything from removing parts of or all of the female’s external genitalia, to cutting out the clitoris, and sometimes the sewing together of the labia cheeks. It is widely considered as a violation of human rights. Practiced by many faiths, including Christians, Muslims and some traditional African religions, some cultures believe that the ritual makes a woman more eligible for marriage, while others find it is more aesthetically pleasing.
The higher incidence rate was reported in Somalia, where 98 per cent of females between 15 and 49 had been cut, followed by 96 per cent in Guinea, 93 per cent in Djibouti and 91 per cent in Egypt.
In Kenya and Tanzania, declines were noted, with women in their 40s three times more likely to have undergone some form of genital cutting than girls between 15 and 19.
The rate of mutilation had also been halved in Liberia, Nigeria, Iraq and the Central African Republic, while Gambia, Sudan, Yemen, Mali and Senegal reported no such decline.
“Social acceptance is the most frequently mentioned reason for supporting the continuation of the practice,” said report author Claudia Cappa, a UNICEF statistics specialist.
“This is the main reason why women – mothers still have their daughters cut. And this is done sometimes even if they think the practice should be discontinued,” she told reporters in Washington.
Last year, the UN General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution to intensify global efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation.
Cappa also noted that “many boys and men also want this practice to end and this number is growing.”