Sexual and reproductive health

Female genital mutilation

Trends in FGM in countries where the practice is concentrated

Measuring change over time in a deeply-rooted cultural practice such as FGM, is challenging because it is difficult to demonstrate a decrease in a country’s prevalence rates over relatively short periods of time. There has however, been a noticeable decrease in the prevalence of FGM over the last three decades in several countries for which trend data are available.

Despite this progress, there is also worrying evidence that the average age at which the practice is carried out is falling in some countries. One of the cited reasons for this shift includes the wish to have girls cut more discretely (or underground), in the presence of legislation against FGM. Another possible adverse effect of legislation is its tendency to encourage a cross-border movement of women from a country where the practice is illegal to another country where it is allowed.

One encouraging trend, seen consistently in countries for which data from at least two surveys are available, is that women aged 15–19 years are less likely to have been subjected to FGM than women in older age groups, showing signs of a possible generational change in the practice. Moreover, more girls and women are opposed to FGM, compared to in the past, and more women and men are aware of the health consequences of FGM. In fact, in many countries, more women and girls are now in favour of discontinuing the practice.

In the recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the proportion of FGM operations carried out by trained health-care personnel. However, WHO is strongly opposed to health care providers carrying out FGM, as it normalizes and condones the practice, hindering long term efforts for eliminating FGM.

Percentage of girls aged 15 to 19 years and women aged 45 to 49 years who have undergone FGM

Figure 8.7 of the UNICEF report

Reference : United Nations Children’s Fund, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change, UNICEF, New York, 2013.