Female genital mutilation
Female genital mutilation is an internationally recognized human rights violation.
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 at least 200 million girls and women in 31 countries across three continents, with more than half of those cut living in Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia.
Each year, over 4 million girls are at risk of undergoing FGM. Most girls are 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 it.
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 31 FGM-affected countries for which data are available, 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. Approximately one in four FGM survivors – some 52 million women and girls worldwide – were cut by health personnel. 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.
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 31 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.
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, while mobilizing communities to transform the social norms that uphold the practice.
Since 2008, UNICEF has worked in partnership with UNFPA on the 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.
Last modified September 2020
More from UNICEF
This policy brief calls for attention to the increased level of medicalization of FGM – where the practice is performed by a health professional.
These statistical profiles present the latest available data on FGM for 31 countries where FGM is concentrated.
UNICEF’s global database for data on FGM.