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UNICEF hails progress toward ending female genital cutting


Despite Signs of Hope, 3 Million Girls Still Subjected to Practice Annually

NEW YORK, 6 February 2006 - UNICEF today applauded the women and men who are working together to end the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and to respect the right of girls to grow to womanhood without harm to their bodies.

Throughout sub-Saharan Africa and in Egypt and Sudan a social movement is unfolding to end FGM/C, one of the most persistent, pervasive and silently endured human rights violations. Over the last six years, thousands of villages in West Africa have joined together in public pledging ceremonies to abandon FGM/C, bringing greater hopes of ending the practice globally within a single generation.

“We stand at a pivotal moment in history as we work toward a truly positive collective change,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said Monday, the fourth annual International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation. “The most effective approaches to this issue have been found not by punishing perpetrators but through encouraging and supporting healthy choices.”

There is still a long way to go toward ending FGM/C. Every year, three million girls in 28 countries on the African continent are subjected to the practice, as are thousands of girls in immigrant communities in Europe, North America and Australia. Globally, between 100 and 140 million girls and women have been cut or mutilated.

Most girls are cut between infancy and their 14th birthday. Many communities still hold firmly to the age-old tradition, which though not always stated outright is considered a prerequisite for marriage.

Veneman said ending this discriminatory and dangerous practice is essential to the success of the Millennium Development Goals on improving maternal health, promoting gender equality and reducing child mortality.

UNICEF is working with partners who have identified several critical elements necessary for mass abandonment of the practice. These include using a non-coercive and non-judgmental approach; raising awareness in the community about the harmfulness of the practice; encouraging public declarations of the collective commitment to abandonment; and spreading the abandonment message within communities.

UNICEF is supporting programmes to end FGM/C in 18 countries and conducting initial activities in four. They use a variety of approaches:

In Senegal, largely thanks to the work of TOSTAN, a non-governmental organization that focuses on educating communities about human rights and human dignity, tens of thousands of people have declared their abandonment of the practice.

In Egypt, the FGM-Free Village Model project brings together government and UN partners to encourage villages in the southern region to make public declarations against FGM/C. UNICEF works with individuals who have renounced FGM/C and are willing to speak out and persuade others in the community to do the same.

In Sudan, religious leaders are using their authority to affirm that FGM/C is a violation of spiritual and theological principles. On Monday, government officials, the National Council for Child Welfare and UN agencies will hold a commemorative event that will include an exhibition, religious and secular songs on abandonment of FGM/C and children’s performances. The exhibition will include images of girls who died of FGM/C.

While communities are making choices to abandon FGM/C, governments and non-governmental organizations have been instrumental in the movement to end the practice. The Maputo Protocol, a regional legal instrument which explicitly prohibits and condemns FGM/C, was ratified by 15 African countries and entered into force in November 2005. A month later, 100 African parliamentarians adopted the groundbreaking “Dakar Declaration,” which underscores the importance of community involvement as well as legislative change in ending FGM/C.

A regional conference on FGM/C will be held in Mali later this month, where discussions will centre on using legislation to enforce the Maputo Protocol resolutions. The practice of FGM/C also will be addressed in the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children, to be published in October 2006.

“We know what has to be done to abandon this harmful practice,” said Veneman. “Strong support from governments encouraging communities and individuals to make the healthiest choices possible for girls will save lives and greatly benefit families and communities.”


UNICEF published two reports on FGM/C in December 2005 which are downloadable: Innocenti Digest no 12: “Changing a Harmful Social convention: Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (Arabic, French, Spanish and Italian) and ”Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting: A Statistical Consideration" (English only)


For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for poor countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

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