(September 2008) An estimated 100 million to 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and more than 3 million girls are at risk for cutting each year on the African continent alone.
FGM/C is generally performed on girls between ages 4 and 12, although it is practiced in some cultures as early as a few days after birth or as late as just prior to marriage. Typically, traditional excisors have carried out the procedure, but recently a discouraging trend has emerged in some countries where medical professionals are increasingly performing the procedure.
FGM/C poses serious physical and mental health risks for women and young girls, especially for women who have undergone extreme forms of the procedure. According to a 2006 WHO study, FGM/C can be linked to increased complications in childbirth and even maternal deaths. Other side effects include severe pain, hemorrhage, tetanus, infection, infertility, cysts and abscesses, urinary incontinence, and psychological and sexual problems.
FGM/C is practiced in at least 28 countries in Africa and a few others in Asia and the Middle East. The 27 developing countries included on this chart are the only ones where data have been systematically collected at this time. FGM/C is practiced at all educational levels and in all social classes and occurs among many religious groups (Muslims, Christians, and animists), although no religion mandates it. Prevalence rates vary significantly from country to country (from nearly 98 percent in Somalia to less than 1 percent in Uganda) and even within countries.
Trends in FGM/C Prevalence
Source: Feldman-Jacobs and Clifton, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Data and Trends (Washington DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2008).
Since the early 1990s, FGM/C has gained recognition as a health and human rights issue among African governments, the international community, women’s organizations, and professional associations. Global and national efforts to end FGM/C have supported legislation targeting excisors, medical professionals, and families who perpetuate the practice, but political will and implementation remain an issue.
Some of the data that have been collected in recent years give hope to those working toward the abandonment of FGM/C as they reflect lower levels of cutting among girls ages 15 to 19.
Charlotte Feldman-Jacobs is program director, Gender, at the Population Reference Bureau. Donna Clifton is a communications specialist at PRB.