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Press release

UNICEF urges end to female genital mutilation and cutting

Despite some progress, millions of girls undergo the harmful procedure

WASHINGTON DC, February 6, 2004--UNICEF today marked the first anniversary of the International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) by calling for increased efforts to end the practice. More than 130 million women around the world have undergone the procedure.

Despite some signs of progress, particularly the abandonment of the practice by several communities in Senegal, female genital mutilation and cutting is still performed every year on 2 million girls, said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy.

"This practice not only poses very serious health risks, it is a fundamental violation of human rights," Bellamy said today. "Nations must make good on their promises to move immediately to end this discriminatory and dangerous tradition."

The 2002 UN Special Session on Children, endorsed by 69 heads of states and government and 190 high level national delegations, set a goal to end female genital mutilation and cutting by the year 2010.

UNICEF, which is working with the World Health Organization, UNFPA, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNIFEM, leading NGOs, donors and academic institutions to end FGM/C, believes that in order to end the practice, nations must address FGM/C not only through education but also as part of their overall economic and social development work. Comprehensive, culturally sensitive approaches are needed to address, and begin to change, community attitudes toward female genital mutilation and cutting, a deeply-rooted tradition that in many societies is believed to be a religious obligation.

Particular success on this front has been made in Senegal, where nearly 1300 villages representing more than 600,000 people have ended the practice of FGM/C altogether. UNICEF has been working with TOSTAN, a Senegalese NGO, to raise awareness on the issue and encourage more communities to ban cutting. In Sudan, local religious leaders have begun to actively work to end the procedure as well. By developing community-based and culturally attuned awareness raising campaigns, this violation of a woman's rights can be ended altogether.

UNICEF is committed to eliminating all forms of FGM/C. The organization's work focuses on building a protective environment for children that safeguards them from abuse and exploitation. UNICEF is working globally to develop a set of indicators that will help monitor the prevalence of women undergoing FGM/C and the behavioral changes that are occurring to curtail occurrences.

"To end this practice by 2010 is an ambitious goal, but governments have agreed to do it and the will is clearly there," said Bellamy. "We need to put our resources behind the promise. At current rates, by 2010, sixteen million more girls will be cut. By acting now, we can help to stem the practice, protect the health of these girls and ensure that their human rights are respected."


For further information, please contact:

Erin Trowbridge, UNICEF New York, + 1 212 326 7269




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