We’re building a new UNICEF.org.
As we swap out old for new, pages will be in transition. Thanks for your patience – please keep coming back to see the improvements.

Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Female genital mutilation/cutting


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 200 million girls and women have experienced FGM/C in 30 countries across three continents. But without far more intensive and sustained action now from all parts of society, hundreds of millions more girls will suffer profound, permanent, and utterly unnecessary harm. If rates of decline seen in the past three decades are sustained, the impact of population growth means that up to 63 million more girls could be cut by 2050.

Overall, an adolescent girl today is about a third less likely to be cut than 30 years ago. Kenya and Tanzania have seen rates drop to a third of their levels three decades ago through a combination of community activism and legislation. In the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria, prevalence has dropped by as much as half. Attitudes are also changing: recent data show that the majority of people in the countries where FGM is practiced believe it should end, but continue to compel their daughters to undergo the procedure because of strong social pressure.

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 typically upheld by a deeply entrenched social norm, especially in areas where it is widespread. 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 upbringing, future marriage or family honour. Some also associate it with religious beliefs although no religious scriptures require it. In many contexts, the social norm upholding the practice is so powerful 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 within a population group. 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 , which now extends to 17 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. An independent evaluation of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme carried out in 2013 concluded that the Joint Programme had contributed to the acceleration of abandonment of FGM/C at community and national levels.

For more data on female genital mutilation/cutting, visit http://data.unicef.org/child-protection/fgmc

Visit the resources page for more information.



New enhanced search