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UNICEF: toward ending female genital mutilation

UNICEF hails progress toward ending female genital mutilation

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today praised efforts made by governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to outlaw female genital mutilation, a gruesome and debilitating practice that affects millions of girls every year on the African continent.

Marking the fourth annual International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation, the head of the UN children’s agency said girls have the right to grow to womanhood without harm to their bodies. She said ending the practice was “essential” to improving maternal health, promoting gender equality and reducing child mortality.

“We know what has to be done to abandon this harmful practice,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “Strong support from governments encouraging communities and individuals to make the healthiest choices possible for girls will save lives and greatly benefit families and communities.”

“We stand at a pivotal moment in history as we work toward a truly positive collective change,” she added. “The most effective approaches to this issue have been found not by punishing perpetrators but through encouraging and supporting healthy choices.”

Some 3 million girls in 28 countries on the African continent are subjected to genital mutilation each year, as are thousands of girls in immigrant communities in Europe, North America and Australia, according to UNICEF, which describes this as one of the most “silently endured human rights violations.” Globally, between 100 and 140 million girls and women have been cut or mutilated.

Most girls are cut between infancy and their 14th birthday. Many communities still hold firmly to the age-old tradition, which though not always stated outright is considered a prerequisite for marriage.

UNICEF is supporting programmes to end female genital mutilation in 18 countries and conducting initial activities in four. They use a variety of approaches centred around mass education campaigns and working closely with local authorities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), religious and other leaders.

For example in Senegal, largely thanks to the work of TOSTAN, an NGO that focuses on educating communities about human rights and human dignity, tens of thousands of people have declared their abandonment of the practice.

Legislation to outlaw mutilation has also been put in place. In particular, this includes the Maputo Protocol, which was ratified by 15 African countries and entered into force in November 2005. A month later, 100 African parliamentarians adopted the groundbreaking “Dakar Declaration,” which underscores the importance of community involvement as well as legislation to end the practice.

UNICEF also said that a regional conference will be held in Mali later this month, where discussions will centre on using legislation to enforce the Maputo Protocol resolutions. The practice of female genital mutilation will also be addressed in the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children, to be published in October this year.

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