A comprehensive new assessment of the ancient practice of female genital cutting by the United Nations Children’s Fund has found that it is gradually declining in many countries, even some where it remains deeply entrenched.
The authors of the report, released Monday, describe the practice as “remarkably tenacious, despite attempts spanning nearly a century to eliminate it.”
But they also say teenage girls are now less likely to have been cut than older women in more than half of the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where it is concentrated. In Egypt, where more women have been cut than in any other nation, 81 percent of 15- to 19-year-olds have undergone the practice, compared with 96 percent of women in their late 40s.
“The numbers aren’t huge, but they’re going in the right direction,” said Bettina Shell-Duncan, an anthropology professor at the University of Washington who was a consultant on the report.
Over all, Unicef estimates that more than 125 million girls and women have undergone the practice and that 30 million girls are at risk of it over the coming decade. The report is the first in which Unicef assessed the practice among all age groups based on household survey data from all of the 29 countries.
In addition to Egypt, where 91 percent of those ages 15 to 49 have undergone the practice, countries with the highest percentages of women who have been cut include Somalia, at 98 percent; Guinea, at 96 percent; Djibouti, at 93 percent; Eritrea and Mali, at 89 percent; and Sierra Leone and Sudan, at 88 percent.
Unicef, in its first major report on the practice since 2005, found that the deepest declines in the prevalence of female genital cutting, also known as female genital mutilation, have occurred in Kenya, one of Africa’s most dynamic, developed nations, and — most surprising — in the Central African Republic, one of its poorest and least developed.