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UNICEF: 30 million girls face genital mutilation over next decade

More than 30 million girls face genital mutilation over the next decade, UNICEF has reported. More than 125 million girls and women alive today have undergone "genital cutting," although the numbers are declining.

Female genital mutilation still remains "almost universal" in some countries, a United Nations Children's Fund study released on Monday has found.

Somalia was found to practice the procedure most extensively, with 98 percent of females aged 15-19 reported to have been "cut." The figure stood at 96 percent in Guinea, 93 percent in Djibouti and 91 percent in Egypt.

The tradition remains "remarkably persistent, despite nearly a century of attempts to eliminate it," said the report, which compiled 20 years of data across 29 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East in which the practice is still conducted.

"As many as 30 million girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade if current trends persist," it said.

Female genital mutilation traditionally involves the removal of a woman's external genitalia either fully or partially. It can include cutting out the clitoris and sometimes sewing together the labia. It is practiced by various religions including Islam and Christianity, as well as in traditional African religions, and is often considered to preserve female honour and beauty, as well as improve marriage prospects.

Genital mutilation becoming 'less common'

Nevertheless the report noted a significant decline in the number of countries.

Genital mutilation "is becoming less common in slightly more than half of the 29 countries studied," UNICEF said.

It found prevalence had dropped by almost 50 percent among adolescent girls in Benin, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria. Declines were also apparent over time in Kenya and Tanzania, where women in their 40s were three times as likely to have undergone cutting as girls than young women aged 15-19 now.

While social acceptance was cited as a common reason for its persistence, UNICEF said in its report that public support for female genital mutilation was starting to wane - among both men and women - in several countries where it remains common practice. In both Ghana and Benin 93 percent of girls and women surveyed thought it should end. In Tanzania the figure stood at 92 percent.

"The challenge now is to let girls and women, boys and men speak out loudly and clearly and announce they want this harmful practice abandoned," said Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director.

ccp/msh (AFP, epd)