Every year several million women approach childbirth knowing that the risk will be greater because some or all of their genitalia has been cut away by the traditional practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).
Approximately 2 million girls are mutilated every year. Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, and the Sudan account for 75% of all cases. In Djibouti and Somalia, 98% of girls are mutilated.
Apart from the immediate fear and pain, the consequences can include prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility, and death. For those who suffer infibulation the severest form of FGM in which all external sexual organs are cut away the trauma of recutting is repeated with each new birth to allow passage of the baby. Both moderate and severe forms increase the risks of childbirth.
Mutilation is not required by any religion. It is a tradition designed to preserve virginity, ensure marriageability, and contain sexuality.
As the table shows, several African governments have begun to move against the practice. So far, only Ghana has translated policy into law. The Government of Burkina Faso, which has actively campaigned against FGM since 1990 through its National Anti-Excision Committee, has escalated its work in the past three years as the result of increased national support: law cases involving deaths caused by FGM have been brought to court under existing criminal laws.
Usually inflicted on girls aged 4 to 12, FGM is one of the worst violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The 1990s have seen growing pressures against the practice from women's groups, human rights organizations, child welfare groups, and professional organizations.
Action has also been taken in some industrialized countries with significant numbers of African refugees or immigrant groups. In 1994, Australia and Norway joined Sweden and the United Kingdom in passing laws against FGM. As of December 1995, bills to make FGM a criminal offence were before the US Congress and the Canadian Parliament.
Africa: the FGM record
Estimates of the numbers and percentages of women who suffer female genital mutilation
% of women
|FGM prohibited under|
|Central African Rep.||50||0.8||Yes||No||No|
FGM is not practised in the three southern regions. The Sudan's 1946 law prohibited infibulation only (the severest form of FGM): the 1993 penal code does not mention FGM, leaving its current legal status unclear.
* Past government policy opposed FGM, but the policy of current ruling groups is unknown.
** FGM is not covered by a medical code, but this may be unnecessary since the practice is illegal.
*** This estimate predates Eritrea's independence and assumes that FGM prevalence is equivalent to Ethiopia's.
SOURCES FGM: Nahid Toubia, January 1996 update from her study, Female Genital Mutilation: A Call for Global Action, Women, Ink., New York, revised edition, 1995. Population: United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 1994 Revision, 1994.