The United States has strengthened a ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) by imposing tougher penalties and making prosecutions easier – a step campaigners hope will bolster global efforts to eradicate the practice.
Signed by President Donald Trump this week, the law said the United States should lead the way in banning FGM, calling it “a form of child abuse, gender discrimination, and violence”.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than half a million girls and women in the United States have undergone or are at risk of FGM.
Here are 12 facts about the ancient ritual:
1. FGM dates back more than 2,000 years and is practised across many cultures and religions.
2. An estimated 200 million girls and women globally have been cut.
3. It is commonly linked to about 30 countries, mostly in Africa, but studies suggest it may be practised by communities in approximately 50 nations.
4. The ritual, often justified for cultural or religious reasons, is underpinned by the desire to control female sexuality.
5. FGM typically involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia. In some cases the vaginal opening is sewn up. Other procedures, more common in parts of Asia, include nicking or pricking the clitoris.
6. It can cause long-lasting mental and physical health problems including chronic infections, menstrual problems, infertility, pregnancy and childbirth complications.
7. Somalia has the world’s highest FGM prevalence (98% of women have been cut), followed by Guinea, Djibouti, Mali and Sierra Leone. Egypt has the greatest number of women who have been cut.
8. Most of the 28 countries in Africa where FGM is endemic have banned it, although enforcement is generally weak. Countries with no law include Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone and Somalia.
9. There is an increasing trend for FGM to be carried out by health professionals rather than traditional cutters, particularly in Egypt, Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria and Sudan.
10. World leaders have pledged to end FGM by 2030, but the practice remains as common as it was 30 years ago in Somalia, Mali, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Chad and Senegal.
11. The United Nations estimates 2 million more girls than previously predicted could undergo FGM in the next decade as COVID-19 disrupts efforts to end the practice.
12. In countries where FGM takes place, seven in 10 women think the practice should end. Half of women who have themselves been cut would like to see it stop.