“There is evidence of huge and significant decline in the prevalence of FGM/C among children across countries and regions.”

Recent estimates show that more than 200 million women and children around the world have undergone female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C). All the available data clearly refer to Africa and some Middle Eastern regions (including Iraq and Yemen) as areas where the practice is particularly most prevalent. Further findings from recent global research revealed the existence of such a practice in India, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

BMJ Global Health, and online peer reviewed journal, reported on the first analysis of it’s kind looking into the prevalence of female genital mutilation/cutting among girls up to the age of 14 over the last thirty years.

While there has been a huge fall in prevalence of FGM/genital cutting among girls across Africa, it is still pervasive in Iraq and Yemen; and conditions ripe for reversal of downward trend. 

The rates of decline vary widely by country, and the practice is still pervasive in Western Asia–Iraq and Yemen–the findings indicate.

Findings are based on an analysis of survey data (Demographic Health Survey and Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey) from 1990 up to 2017 for 29 countries across Africa, plus two countries in Western Asia (Iraq and Yemen). In all, researchers included 90 sets of survey data, covering 208,195 girls up to the age of 14, for a time trends analysis.

Analysis showed that the prevalence of FGM/cutting varied widely among and within countries and regions during the survey periods. The decline was steepest in East Africa, followed by North and West Africa.

Prevalence fell from 71.4 per cent in 1995 to 8 per cent in 2016 in East Africa; from just under 58 per cent in 1990 to just over 14 per cent in 2015 in North Africa; and from 73.6 per cent in 1996 to 25.4 per cent in 2017 in West Africa.

However, in Western Asia, FGM/cutting prevalence has gone up, rising by 1 per cent in 1997, and by just under 16 per cent in 2013.

While these trends point to the overall success of national and international initiatives to drive down the practice over the past three decades, there is still significant cause for concern, note the authors.

“The risk factors still prevail, which potentially heightens the likelihood of reverse trend in some countries,” they point out. “These risk factors include lack of, or poor, education, poverty, gendered cultural forces….and continued perception of FGM/cutting as a potential marriage market activity.”

This study is observational, and as such, no firm conclusions can be drawn about its findings, added to which the survey data relied on personal contributions often affected by illiteracy, poverty, and cultural sensitivities.

Nevertheless, many countries were included in the analysis and sound sampling methods were used for the surveys say the authors.

“The emerging consensus is that more than 3 million children in Africa are at risk every year of FGM/cutting.”

And the practice is not confined to Africa and the Middle East, but also occurs in India, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, some European countries, as well as North and South America.

“If the goal of public policy is to ensure that the practice is eliminated, further efforts and interventions as well as service planning are urgently needed,” they conclude.

Researchers called for ongoing efforts toward the goal of eliminating the behavior including “legislation, advocacy, education and multimedia communication, in order to come up with more culturally sensitive and community-engaging strategies such as forging partnership with religious and community leaders, youths and health workers to drive the practice downward.”

Findings from BMJ.com…
There is evidence of huge and significant decline in the prevalence of FGM/C among children across countries and regions

Findings: We included 90 DHS and MICS data sets for 208 195 children (0–14 years) from 29 countries spread across Africa and two countries in Western Asia. The prevalence of FGM/C among children varied greatly between countries and regions and also within countries over the survey periods. The percentage decline in the prevalence of FGM/C among children aged 0–14 years old was highest in East Africa, followed by North and West Africa. The prevalence decreased from 71.4% in 1995 to 8.0% in 2016 in East Africa. In North Africa, the prevalence decreased from 57.7% in 1990 to 14.1% in 2015. In West Africa, the prevalence decreased from 73.6% in 1996 to 25.4% in 2017. The results of the trend analysis showed a significant shift downwards in the prevalence of FGM/C among children aged 0–14 years in such regions and subregions of East Africa, North Africa and West Africa. East Africa has experienced a much faster decrease in the prevalence of the practice (trend=−7.3%, 95% CI −7.5% to −7.1%) per year from 1995 to 2014. By contrast, the decline in prevalence has been much slower in North Africa (trend=−4.4%, 95% CI −4.5% to −4.3%) and West Africa (trend=−3.0%, 95% CI −3.1% to −2.9%).

Cover Photo:ANP EPA/Tugela Ridley.