London/New York — The UK Government and UNICEF are hosting today a first-ever Girl Summit to rally support for much faster progress to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage - two practices that affect millions of girls across the globe.
UNICEF data released today show that while prevalence has decreased slightly over the past three decades, rates of progress need to be scaled up dramatically, simply to offset population growth in the countries where the practices are most common.
"FGM and child marriage profoundly and permanently harm girls, denying them their right to make their own decisions and to reach their full potential. They are detriments to the girls themselves, their families, and their societies," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. "Girls are not property; they have the right to determine their destiny. When they do so, everyone benefits."
According to the newly-released data:
More than 130 million girls and women have experienced some form of FGM in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the harmful practice is most common. Beyond extreme physical and psychological pain, girls who undergo FGM are at risk of prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and death.
Child marriage is even more widespread and can lead to a lifetime of disadvantage and deprivation. Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children. More than 1 in 3 - or some 250 million - were married before 15. Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence. Young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s; their infants are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life.
Overall, an adolescent girl today is about a third less likely to be cut than 30 years ago. Kenya and Tanzania have seen rates drop to a third of their levels three decades ago through a combination of community activism and legislation. In the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria, prevalence has dropped by as much as half. Attitudes are also changing: recent data show that the majority of people in the countries where FGM is practiced believe it should end, but continue to compel their daughters to undergo the procedure because of strong social pressure.
But without far more intensive and sustained action now from all parts of society, hundreds of millions more girls will suffer profound, permanent, and utterly unnecessary harm.
- If rates of decline seen in the past three decades are sustained, the impact of population growth means the number of women married as children (more than 700 million) will remain flat through 2050; and up to 63 million more girls could be cut by 2050.
- Doubling the rate of decline would bring the number of women married as children down to 570 million by 2030 and 450 million by 2050. The number of girls and women affected by FGM/C (more than 130 million) would remain roughly at today's levels.
"The numbers tell us we must accelerate our efforts. And let's not forget that these numbers represent real lives. While these are problems of a global scale, the solutions must be local, driven by communities, families and girls themselves to change mindsets and break the cycles that perpetuate FGM/C and child marriage," Lake said. "We can't let the staggering numbers numb us - they must compel us to act."