Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

© UNICEF/HQ 98-0232/ Grossman
A village man speaks with Mayamuna Traor, president of the local women's association, and other village women. Mayamuna has played a pivotal role in banning FGM in her village. Senegal.
Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), or female genital cutting, refers to a number of practices which involve cutting away part or all of a girl’s external genitalia. Mutilated/cut infants, girls and women face irreversible lifelong health risks, among other consequences.

An estimated 70 million girls and women living today have been subjected to FGM/C in Africa and Yemen. They are also increasingly found in Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA, primarily among immigrants from Africa and southwestern Asia. 

FGM/C is practiced for a number of reasons including:

Sexual: to control or reduce female sexuality.
Sociological: for example, as an initiation for girls into womanhood, social integration and the maintenance of social cohesion.
Hygiene and aesthetic reasons: where it is believed that the female genitalia are dirty and unsightly.
Health: in the belief that it enhances fertility and child survival.
Religious reasons: in the mistaken belief that FGM/C is a religious requirement.

FGM/C is mainly performed on children and adolescents between four and 14 years of age. In some countries such as Ethiopia however, more than half of FGM/C is performed on infants under one year old.

Practitioners of FGM/C are generally traditional birth attendants or trained midwives. FGM/C is a highly-valued service with high financial rewards, and a practitioner's status in the community and income can be directly linked with performance of the operation.

FGM/C is a fundamental violation of the rights of girls. It is discriminatory and violates the rights to equal opportunities, health, freedom from violence, injury, abuse, torture and cruel or inhuman and degrading treatment, protection from harmful traditional practices, and to make decisions concerning reproduction. These rights are protected in international law.

FGM/C does irreparable harm. It can result in death through severe bleeding leading to haemorrhagic shock, neurogenic shock as a result of pain and trauma, and severe, overwhelming infection and septicaemia. It is routinely traumatic. Many girls enter a state of shock induced by the severe pain, psychological trauma and exhaustion from screaming.

Other harmful effects include: failure to heal; abscess formation; cysts; excessive growth of scar tissue; urinary tract infection;   painful sexual intercourse; increased susceptibility to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases; reproductive tract infection; pelvic inflammatory diseases; infertility; painful menstruation; chronic urinary tract obstruction/ bladder stones; urinary incontinence; obstructed labour; increased risk of bleeding and infection during childbirth.



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FGM - Definition

Female genital mutilation (or female genital cutting) comprises all surgical procedures involving partial or total removal of the external genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for cultural or non-therapeutic reasons.