Female genital mutilation

It is estimated that 3 million girls are subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) every year – joining the group of at least 200 million women and girls who already live with the consequences of FGM today. FGM refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injuries (e.g., pricking, scraping, burning) to the female genitals for non-medical reasons.

There are no known health benefits of FGM. On the contrary, research shows that girls and women that have been subjected to FGM are at greater risk of complications during labour. Infants of mothers who have undergone more extensive forms of FGM are at an increased risk of dying at birth. Recent estimates reveal that most of the countries with high FGM prevalence also have high maternal mortality ratios.

FGM is a painful violation of human rights. The procedure – most often performed without anesthetics, and with the same un-sterile knife on girl after girl, can put girls’ lives and health at immediate risk by causing excessive bleeding or infection. But pain and life-threatening complications are risks that can stay with the girls and women throughout their life – in particular if they have been subjected to the most severe forms of FGM, which leaves the girl with just a small hole to pass urine and menstrual flow.

Where it is practiced, FGM is performed in line with tradition and social norms. It is often seen as a precondition for respect and acceptance in the local community, for being eligible for marriage, and to control girls’ sexuality. It is often a subject that is considered taboo to discuss. Under such circumstances, parents may not question FGM but consider it the best thing for their girls.

FGM predates and is not a requirement by any of the global large religions. It is practiced in some Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures in a geographical belt that stretches across the northern half of the African continent and into the Middle East. It is also practiced in some places in Asia and Latin America and in diaspora communities across the world.

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