KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 6 — Around one in four girls and women who underwent female genital mutilation (FGM) were cut by health personnel, according to a new Unicef analysis.
The United Nations (UN) child rights agency found that the proportion — 52 million FGM survivors worldwide — is twice as high among adolescents, it said in a statement marking International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM today.
Thirty-four per cent of FGM victims aged 15 to 19 have undergone medicalised FGM, compared to 16 per cent of victims aged 45 to 49, which indicates growth in the medicalisation of the practice, Unicef’s analysis found.
Medicalised FGM – or any FGM performed by any category of health care provider in a public or private clinic, at home, or elsewhere – is also extremely common in Egypt and Sudan, the analysis stated, where almost eight in 10 girls were cut by medical personnel.
The dangers of medicalised FGM were highlighted in the high-profile death of a 12-year-old girl in Egypt last month, prompting international outrage and condemnation by the UN and the Egyptian government that had banned the practice in 2008.
“Doctor-sanctioned mutilation is still mutilation,” said Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore.
“Trained health care professionals who perform FGM violate girls’ fundamental rights, physical integrity and health.”
Medicalising the practice does not make it safe, moral, or defensible either, she added, as this does not eliminate the danger that it poses to women as it still removes and damages tissue, and interferes with their natural bodily functions.
Female genital mutilation endangers the health of women and girls and can lead to long-term physical, psychological and social consequences too, Fore said.
The trend toward medicalised FGM comes in the face of growing opposition to the practice globally. In the last two decades, the proportion of girls and women in high-prevalence countries who want the practice to stop has doubled, according to the Unicef analysis.
Adolescent girls are more likely than older women to oppose the practice, it added, especially in Egypt, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, where they are at least 50 per cent more likely to do so.
“FGM is rooted in gender inequalities, and the first step in ending it is in changing people’s minds,” said Fore.
“We are making progress. Attitudes are changing. Behaviors are changing. And overall fewer girls are getting cut.”
While the prevalence of FGM worldwide is down from three decades ago, at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM in the 31 countries with available data, and 68 million girls are at risk by 2030.
In 2020 alone, over four million girls around the world are at risk of being cut, Fore noted.