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Despite Decline, 30 Million Girls Still At Risk of Genital Cutting

Update Date: Jul 23, 2013 03:31 PM EDT

The United Nations Children's Fund reveals that more than 125 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation and 30 million more girls are at risk in the next decade.

A new report released on Monday revealed that despite the global decline of female genital mutilation, the practice remains "almost universal" in some countries.  The latest report is based on 20 years of data across 29 countries in African and the Middle East.

Female genital mutilation involves the removal of some or all of a female's external genitalia and can include slicing off the clitoris and sewing together the labia. The practice is closely tied to customs of communities rather than religious identity. Researchers found that highest rates in Somalia, where 98 percent of females aged 15-49 have been cut, followed by 96 percent in Guinea, 93 percent in Djibouti and 91 percent in Egypt.

While most cases occur among Muslim communities, researchers stressed that Jewish and Christian communities also adhere to the custom.

Human rights activists say that law are not enough to stop female genital mutilation, and more people need to speak out in order to eliminate it.

UNICEF said that the tradition remains "remarkably persistent, despite nearly a century of attempts to eliminate it," and if the current trends persist, "as many as 30 million girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade".

The most cited reason for continuing genital cutting is social acceptance.

UNICEF says that while the practice "is becoming less common in slightly more than half of the 29 counties studied overall support for the practice is declining".

The report revealed that declines were apparent over time in countries like Kenya and Tanzania, where woman in their 40s were three times as likely to have undergone female genital mutilation as girls aged 15 to 19. The report also found that prevalence among teenage girls has dropped by about half in Benin, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria. However, there was "no discernible decline in countries such as Chad, Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Sudan or Yemen," according to the report

Even though female genital mutilation is often thought to be a form of patriarchal control, the report revealed that there is a similar level of support among both genders for stopping it.

"FGM/C is a violation of a girl's rights to health, well-being and self-determination," UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta said in a statement. "What is clear from this report is that legislation alone is not enough. 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."

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