Female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation is an internationally recognized human rights violation

Model girls are trained to teach their communities in Afar region, at Erubti woreda, about the harmful practice of FGM in collaboration with the Ethiopian Government, UNICEF Ethiopia and other partners.
UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Mersha

The challenge

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

Despite being internationally recognized as a human rights violation, FGM has been performed on more than 200 million girls and women alive today. The practice occurs in 30 countries across three continents, with half of those cut living in Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia.

Each year, more than 3 million girls worldwide are at risk of undergoing FGM, with most girls cut before the age of 15.

Numerous factors contribute to the prevalence of the practice. Yet in every society in which it occurs, FGM is a manifestation of entrenched gender inequality.

Some communities endorse it as a means of controlling girls’ sexuality or safeguarding their chastity. Others force girls to undergo FGM as a prerequisite for marriage or inheritance. Where the practice is most prevalent, societies often see it as a rite of passage for girls. FGM is not endorsed by Islam or Christianity, but religious narratives are commonly deployed to justify the practice.

Teenage girls pose for a portrait
UNICEF/UNI163955/Gordon
Teenage girls pose for a portrait in southern Senegal, where more than 80 per cent of girls undergo FGM.

Because FGM is a cultural practice, parents may find it difficult to decide against having their daughters cut for fear that their families will be ostracized or their girls deemed ineligible for marriage.

Yet FGM can lead to serious health complications and even death. Immediate risks include haemorrhage, shock, infection, urine retention and severe pain. Girls subjected to FGM are also at increased risk of becoming child brides and dropping out of school, threatening their ability to build a better future for themselves and their communities. Indeed, of the 30 FGM-affected countries, 22 are among the least developed in the world.

Today, an alarming trend in some countries is the medicalization of FGM, in which the procedure is carried out by a health-care provider. Medicalization not only violates medical ethics, it also risks legitimizing the practice and giving the impression it is without health consequences. No matter where or by whom it is performed, FGM is never safe.

The solution

Global efforts have accelerated progress being made to eliminate FGM. Today, a girl is about one third less likely to be cut than she was 30 years ago.

Still, sustaining these achievements in the face of population growth presents a considerable challenge. By 2030, more than one in three girls worldwide will be born in the 30 countries where FGM is most prevalent, putting 68 million girls – some as young as infants – at risk of being cut.

If global efforts are not significantly scaled up, the number of girls and women undergoing FGM will be higher in 2030 than it is today.

Two girls clap their hands
UNICEF/UNI63113/Furrer
Two girls in the village of Malicounda Bambara, Senegal, celebrate the abandonment of FGM in several nearby villages.

UNICEF supports the development of policies and laws focusing on ending and outlawing FGM, and works to ensure their implementation and enforcement. We also help to provide girls at risk of FGM, as well as FGM survivors, with access to suitable care services, while mobilizing communities to transform the social norms that uphold the practice.

Since 2008, UNICEF has worked in partnership with UNFPA on the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation: Accelerating Change.

Drawing on history and best practices, the Joint Programme builds on resolutions from the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council to galvanize global momentum to eliminate FGM by 2030.

Resources

Calling for the End of the Medicalization of Female Genital Mutilation

The medicalization of FGM is an alarming trend in some countries.


Female Genital Mutilation Country Profiles

These statistical profiles present the latest available data on FGM for the 30 countries where it is most prevalent.


Female Genital Mutilation: A Global Concern

This brochure provides a comprehensive compilation of statistics on FGM, drawing on data from more than 90 nationally representative surveys.


UNICEF Data on Female Genital Mutilation

Information from UNICEF’s global database provides snapshots on FGM prevalence and young girls’ perceptions of the practice.