Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Female genital mutilation/cutting

In Côte d'Ivoire, where 36 per cent of women have been victims of genital mutilation, the practice is increasingly becoming a thing of the past, as victims as well as a former excisionist speak out to raise awareness of its cruelty and its dangers.


Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

According to a recent UNICEF publication at least 125 million girls and women have experienced FGM/C in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is concentrated. Given present trends, as many as 30 million girls under the age of 15 may still be at risk. However, the data shows that FGM/C is becoming less prevalent overall and the younger generation is less vulnerable to the practice. According to UNICEF estimates, on average, 36 per cent of girls aged 15-19 have been cut compared to an estimated 53 per cent of women aged 45-49 (UNICEF ChildInfo).

FGM/C may cause severe pain and can result in prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death. A 2006 World Health Organisation’s study found that FGM/C is also harmful to newborns due to adverse obstetric outcomes, leading to an extra 1 to 2 perinatal deaths per 100 deliveries.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1485/Kate Holt
A woman holds a poster promoting the Saleema Campaign at a community meeting in El Khatmia Village, Gadaref State. El Khatmia is one of five villages in Gadaref that have agreed to collectively abandon FGM/C.

FGM/C is a fundamental violation of the rights of girls and is a deeply entrenched social norm. It is a manifestation of gender discrimination. The practice is perpetrated by families without a primary intention of violence, but is de facto violent in nature. Communities practice FGM/C in the belief that it will ensure a girl's proper marriage, chastity, beauty or family honour. Some also associate it with religious beliefs although no religious scriptures require it. The practice is such a powerful social norm that families have their daughters cut even when they are aware of the harm it can cause. If families were to stop practicing on their own they would risk the marriage prospects of their daughter as well as the family's status.

Though the practice has persisted for over a thousand years, programmatic evidence suggests that FGM/C can end in one generation. While UNICEF currently works in 22 countries on the elimination of FGM/C, since 2008 UNFPA and UNICEF have collaborated on the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Accelerating Change in 15 of those countries in West, East and North Africa. Among the largest programmes on the issue, UNFPA and UNICEF jointly support government and other partners to strengthen legislation outlawing the practice and to carry out activities enabling communities to make a coordinated and collective choice to abandon FGM/C. Integrated and culturally-sensitive programmes including community conversations and education about human rights and fundamental values with adults, adolescents and religious leaders allow community members to discuss alternative ways of doing the best for their daughters without having them cut. This participatory process has led communities to organize public commitments to abandon FGM/C. As of 2013, nearly 10,000 communities in 15 countries, representing about 8 million people, have renounced the practice, of which 1,775 communities declared in 2012. A joint evaluation of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme is ongoing.

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