UNICEF: Increasing number of genital mutilation victims

It is a worrying issue, although awareness programmes have proved successful in the past. [DFID/Flickr]

A million girls worldwide suffer genital mutilation every year and that number is only increasing in some countries, according to a report by UNICEF. The European Commission has warned that the practice could be on the rise in Europe as well. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The numbers are staggering, with many victims living currently in Europe Union. Approximately 200 million girls and young women are affected according to recent estimates by UNICEF. The number of victims compared with 2014 has risen by an unbelievable 70 million, with factors such as population growth and new data from Indonesia cited by UNICEF as a reason for the spike.

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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is particularly widespread in some regions of Africa and the Middle East. Often, girls are younger than 15 years old. FGM sometimes involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoris – usually without anaesthesia and with rudimentary tools like broken glass or razor blades. The affected women and girls often suffer life-long impairments such as infection, bleeding and complications in childbirth. Many die as a result.

UNICEF’s ??report lists data from 30 countries where FGM is practiced and they are mostly predominantly-Muslim countries. Half of the victims hail from Ethiopia, Egypt and Indonesia. In some countries such as Mali and Ivory Coast, the numbers are on the increase. In Somalia, the majority of women, some 98%, aged 15 to 49 suffer on account of FGM.

Should the current trend continue, the number of victims in the next 15 years will continue to increase strongly, warned UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director, Geeta Rao Gupta. “It is necessary to determine the extent of FGM and eliminate this practice,” she said.

Renate Bähr, director of development organisation World Population Foundation, pointed out the importance of women’s rights in this issue, ”Laws alone are not enough. It is crucial that girls and women are treated the same. If communities do not appreciate that genital mutilation has serious consequences for girls, this cruel tradition will continue.”

Half a million victims in Europe

In Europe, the risk of FGM is growing and, according to the European Commission, about 500,000 women are affected in the EU alone. Although, the executive body has stated that the amount of data available on the issue is limited and there is still a lack of understanding about who carries out FGM and where it is practiced.

EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, Justice and Gender Equality Commissioner V?ra Jourová and Development Aid Commissioner Neven Mimica called for greater awareness to be taught in local communities, independent of culture, background or gender. “A local leader who publicly renounces this practice can have a huge impact on his or her own community,” they said in a joint statement. The EU has published a study on court cases involving FGM.

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The European Parliament asked the Commission last year to come up with a timetable on how best to combat FGM. “Every six minutes, a woman or a small girl becomes the victim of genital mutilation, with serious health and psychological consequences as a result, some even die because of this barbaric act,” warned Gesine Meißner, health spokeswoman for the Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the Parliament.

The issue is closely tied to the increasing number of asylum seekers, many of whom come from countries where the practice is still carried out.

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The EU has already made funds available through the Daphne Funding Programme and the Asylum and Migration Fund. It is intended for training and raising awareness on the part of the European External Action Service and for relevant cases within the member states.

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution in December 2012 calling for a global ban on Female Genital Mutilation. In Germany, it has been a criminal offence since June 2013

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