A total of 28 countries encourage this practice, with an estimated 3 million new girls undergoing this form of mutilation annually according to the United Nations (UN).
"Real and lasting change is possible," said Marta Santos Pais, director of UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, which issued a recent report entitled "Changing a Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting".
FGM/C has been done on young girls for generations. Some cultures believe by removing a girl's sexuality, they are improving her appearance, making her "honourable", and ensuring certain monogamy after marriage. Ironically, some young women have become infertile as result.
According to UNICEF, FGM/C is practiced for a number of reasons, which include:
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.
There are some differences from culture to culture with regards to appropriate age and methods of cutting. The average age is 14, however according to UNICEF, nearly half are performed on infants before their 12th month of age, This figure includes 44 percent in Eritrea and 29 percent in Mali.
The results may be prolonged bleeding, infection, septicaemia, and even death. Not only is the whole experience brutal, painful, and most often done without anesthetics, but also humiliating and forever unchangeable. Once a girl has the FGM/C done, her sexuality is forever dormant. The psychological impact alone is overwhelming and often ignored.
The silence on this topic is deafening. Countries speak very little on FGM/C and its dangers, making it impossible to estimate the actual death toll.
"Change will happen when communities including girls, boys, men and women are empowered by knowledge to make choices that are healthy and empowering to individuals and societies," Pais added.
For statistics by country, please visit Amnesty International
©2006 Anai Rhoads Ford.