Nearly 4.4 million girls will be at risk of female genital mutilation in 2024, warn UN agencies

On International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, must amplify survivors’ voices to raise awareness, inspire collective action

Photo: @WHO / X (formerly Twitter)

On the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on February 6, the World Health Organization (WHO) reiterated its commitment to prevent and respond to female genital mutilation (FGM).

A joint statement by United Nations Population Fund Executive Director Natalia Kanem, UN Children’s Fund Executive Director Catherine Russell, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights High Commissioner Volker Turk, UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was issued on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. 

While the exact number of girls and women who have undergone female genital mutilation worldwide is unknown, data from the 30 countries with population level data show that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to the practice. The practice is primarily concentrated in Western, Eastern, and North-Eastern Africa, as well as some Middle Eastern and Asian countries.

As migration has increased, so has the number of girls and women in Europe, Australia, and North America who have undergone or are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation. FGM is, therefore, a global concern.

This year, nearly 4.4 million girls will be at risk of it — equating to more than 12,000 cases every day, the UN agencies stated.

The statement said:

In keeping with the commitments outlined in the Beijing Declaration and platform for action, those agreed during the 25th Anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, Generation Equality, and other normative frameworks including The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and their general recommendations, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (target 5.3), we reiterate our commitment to prevent and respond to female genital mutilation.

Female genital mutilation violates the rights of women and girls, endangering their physical and mental health and limiting their ability to live healthy and fulfilling lives. It increases their risk of severe pain, bleeding, and infections, as well as other health complications later in life, such as risks during childbirth, which can endanger their newborns’ lives.

“We must amplify the voices of survivors to raise awareness and inspire collective action, and promote their power and autonomy by ensuring they have an active role in prevention and response interventions,” the statement said. 

There has been some progress: The practice of FGM has declined over the last three decades and in the 31 countries with nationally representative prevalence data, approximately one in every three girls aged 15 to 19 today has undergone the procedure, compared to one in every two in the 1990s.

While the prevalence of FGM has decreased globally over the last three decades, not all countries have made progress, and the rate of decline has been uneven. Current progress is insufficient to keep up with increasing population growth, the UN said. If trends continue, the number of girls and women undergoing FGM will rise significantly in the next 15 years, the WHO warned.

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