There are at least 200 million girls and women living today who have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries, a UNICEF report stated.
Half of the females who have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), where some or all of their external genitalia was removed, reside in three countries — Egypt, Ethiopia, and Indonesia.
"Female genital mutilation differs across regions and cultures, with some forms involving life-threatening health risks," UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta said. "In every case FGM violates the rights of girls and women. We must all accelerate efforts — governments, health professionals, community leaders, parents and families — to eliminate the practice."
The data states that girls 14 years old and under account for 44 million of FGM cases. In Gambia, 56 percent of girls 14 and younger have been cut, with 54 percent in Mauritania; around half of girls age 11 and younger have undergone FGM in Indonesia.
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The three countries with the highest prevalence among girls and women ages 15 to 49 who have undergone FGM are Somalia (98 percent), Guinea (97 percent), and Djibouti (93 percent).
In most countries, the girls were cut before their fifth birthdays.
Nearly 70 million more girls and women have undergone FGM than was estimated in 2014.
“Determining the magnitude of female genital mutilation is essential to eliminating the practice,” Rao Gupta said. "When governments collect and publish national statistics on FGM they are better placed to understand the extent of the issue and accelerate efforts to protect the rights of millions of girls and women."
Thirty countries currently collect data on the practice.
For International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on Feb. 6, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a message to stop the practice by 2030, citing it as never having been “more urgent,” according to the United Nations website.
“Never before has it been more urgent — or more possible — to end the practice of female genital mutilation, preventing immeasurable human suffering and boosting the power of women and girls to have a positive impact on our world,” Ki-moon wrote.
“Today I raise my voice and call on others to join me in empowering communities which themselves are eager for change,” Ki-moon wrote. “I count on governments to honor their pledges with support from civil society, health providers, the media and young people ... I am encouraged by the rising chorus of young voices demanding an end to the practice — and I echo their principled insistence on upholding and defending human rights for all.”
UNICEF found that the momentum to end FGM is growing. There has been a decline in girls ages 15 to 19 undergoing FGM, including a 41 percent drop in Liberia, 31 percent in Burkina Faso, 30 percent in Kenya, and 27 percent in Egypt over the last 30 years, the UNICEF report stated.
More than 15,000 communities and sub-districts in 20 countries have publicly announced since 2008 that they are abandoning the practice, of which 2,000 occurred just last year.
Data found that the practice has widespread disapproval and that the majority of people in countries where FGM data exists think it should end, of which two-thirds are boys and men.
While the steps to end FGM are positive, more must be done to combat population growth, according to UNICEF. If the trends in population growth continue, there will be a significant rise in the number of girls and women subjected to the practice over the next 15 years.
However, officials are optimistic.
"This International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is the first since the visionary 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by all countries with a pledge to leave no one behind,” Ki-moon wrote. "The Sustainable Development Goals contain a specific target calling for an end to FGM."
“We can end FGM within a generation, bringing us closer to a world where the human rights of every woman, child and adolescent are fully respected, their health is protected, and they can contribute more to our common future,” she said.