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Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Zero tolerance for female genital mutilation

© UNICEF WCARO/2005/Page
11-year old Aicha was excised at 5, and her older sister at 7. They now learn about the health dangers of FGM/C in their rural village school in Niger.

NEW YORK, 4 February 2005 - Two million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) every year. The International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation on 6 February 2005 promotes the rights of women and children with the aim of eliminating all forms of FGM/C. 

In preparation for the day, representatives from 10 countries in southern Africa and more than 100 religious leaders gathered in Djibouti to discuss measures against FGM/C. UNICEF’s Child Protection Officer for Gender and Harmful Practices Maria Gabriella Devita said it was a successful occasion with moments of high emotion.

“When the Djibouti minister of religion stood on the podium and read aloud a proposal for FGM to be allowed in certain circumstances under medical supervision, around 150 women stood up.  They were banging on the tables and shouting ‘NO…NO…’ for around 10 or 15 minutes. 

“He could not continue to read his proposal. Eventually, the leaders on stage agreed to drop the clause and announced an agreement to abandon FGM.  Many people were hugging each other.”

FGM/C occurs in many countries around the world such as Senegal, Mali, Yemen and Oman.  Among the countries where the practice is most prevalent is Guinea - FGM/C has been inflicted on 99% of women there. There are also reports from Europe, North America and Australia, indicating that the practice takes place among immigrant communities.

Long-term health implications

Aicha, 11, is from Komba village in Niger. She was excised (underwent FGM/C) at the age of five. “I don’t remember much, but I know it was done here in our village,” she recalls.

“I do remember when my little sister, Fatima, was excised. That was 3 years ago. She was tricked after school to go out in the bush, far from the village. When she came back, she was crying. Blood was running down her legs. I was sad. I knew what had happened. I asked my mother why she had Fatima excised. I told her it was bad for girls!”

Forced excision inflicts pain and trauma – which is far worse when there is no anaesthesia. Lack of blade sterilization can cause exposure to HIV/AIDS or long-term health complications.  These include infections that may lead to sterility, haemorrhaging, painful menstruation and life-threatening childbirth.

Aicha remembers her mother explaining that FGM/C had always been their tradition.  Her cousin Alima’s turn came when she was seven, says Aicha. “She knew what they wanted to do. She tried to run. But she was caught anyways. She didn’t stop bleeding all day. That night, she went unconscious. They had to take Alima to a hospital. She was there for five days. She still has to go back to the hospital all the time. She always hurts, even now.”

UNICEF Niger’s work has had a positive impact. Alima was the last girl in Komba to be excised.  FGM/C has since been abandoned there, in the surrounding villages and in four other districts.  Once a taboo subject, the dangers of FGM/C are now openly acknowledged by the government and discussed in village classrooms.

Community awareness campaigns seek to reach key figures across society in the fight against FGM/C: village chiefs, media, traditional and religious leaders, young people, teachers, nurses, midwives and female excisers.  In 2003, the government of Niger passed a law calling for fines or jail sentences for those conducting FGM/C.

UNICEF is working closely with its partners around the world in the campaign for the abandonment of FGM/C everywhere within a generation.




9 February 2005: Rachel Bonham Carter reports on the efforts of UNICEF's partner Tostan to eradicate FGM/C in Senegal.

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4 February 2005: Molly Merching, Director of the NGO Tostan, explains how working alongside UNICEF, they've been able to convince almost one third of all communities in Senegal who practised FGM/C to abandon the tradition.

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