Four years ago, UNICEF dedicated February 6th to the fight against female circumcision. It is an age-old tradition largely prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and in some Middle Eastern countries, where an estimated three million girls undergo genital mutilation every year. It is seen as a rite of passage for young girls to womanhood, and is believed to enhance a girl’s beauty, honour and social status. Parents encourage it,fearing their daughter will not be able to find a husband otherwise.For decades, non-governmental and humanitarian organisations have been campaigning to inform people about the dangers of the practice. But in many cases, campaigns to try to outlaw the female circumcision failed to bring much change. What has made a difference is a program of human rights education allowing people to make up their own minds. The village of Ker Simbala in Senegal is one of the first in the country to have given up female circumcision. Local politician Aminata Ndiaye said that thanks to the program, which is based on educating people with regards to health and their rights, they have managed to raise awareness both among men and women, to enable them to decide for themselves. Some 130 million girls and women are affected in the 28 countries where the practice is still performed. The highest prevalence of female circumcision is in Guinea, Egypt, Mali, Sudan and Eritrea. In those five countries, more than 50 percent of the female population supports the practice. Social pressure and the fear of being ostracised means a majority of girls, often very young, are forced to undergo the mutilation. Melegue Traore, a politician from Burkina Faso, where the practice is illegal, says after 20 years of campaigning, all countries should have legislation that bans sexual mutilation. “There should be laws saying anyone who peforms genital mutilation on a young girl could face a jail sentence.” That still is not the case today. In Sudan, for instance, only the most severe form of female genital mutilation is forbidden by law. Most European countries ban the practice. In September 2001, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on member states to punish any national who commits the crime of female genital mutilation, even if carried out outside the borders. The resolution also calls on member states to recognise the right to asylum of women and girls at risk of circumcision.
Three million girls undergo genital mutilation every year, says UNICEF