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UNICEF STATISTICS
Current Status + Progress
In 19 of the 29 countries where FGM/C is practised, most girls and women think it should end

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) refers to “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”[1] FGM/C is a violation of girls’ and women’s human rights. Yet where it is still practised, FGM/C is performed in line with tradition and social norms and is strongly associated with ethnicity. More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where FGM/C is concentrated. If current trends continue, as many as 30 million girls are at risk of being cut before their 15th birthday. However, the data also show that the majority of girls and women in most practising countries think FGM/C should end. The practice is less prevalent among adolescent girls than among their middle-aged counterparts in most of the 29 countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classified FGM/C into four broad categories in 1995 and again in 2007:  

Type I: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.

Type II: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.

Type III: Narrowing of the vaginal orifice by cutting and bringing together the labia minora and/or the labia majora to create a type of seal, with or without excision of the clitoris. In most instances, the cut edges of the labia are stitched together, which is referred to as ‘infibulation’. 

Type IV: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.

FGM/C is condemned by a number of international treaties and conventions, as well as by national legislation in many countries. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being,” and this statement has been used to argue that FGM/C violates the right to health and bodily integrity. With FGM/C considered as a form of violence against women, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women can be invoked. Similarly, defining it as a form of torture brings it under the rubric of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Moreover, since FGM/C is regarded as a traditional practice prejudicial to the health of children and is, in most cases, performed on minors, it violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child. An interagency statement on FGM/C, issued by 10 UN organizations, was issued in 2008. 

PREVALENCE

FGM/C is concentrated in a swathe of 29 countries from the Atlantic coast to the Horn of Africa, with wide variations in prevalence. The practice is almost universal in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt, with levels above 90 per cent, while it affects only 1 per cent of girls and women in Cameroon and Uganda.

FGM/C is concentrated in a swathe of countries from the Atlantic coast to the Horn of Africa

Notes: In Liberia, girls and women who have heard of the Sande society were asked whether they were members; this provides indirect information on FGM/C since it is performed during initiation into the society. Data for Yemen refer to ever-married girls and women. This map has not been updated since the release of the source publication.

Source: UNICEF, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change, UNICEF, New York, 2013, p. 26.

 

PREVAILING ATTITUDES

Girls’ and women’s attitudes about FGM/C also vary widely across countries. The highest levels of support can be found in Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gambia and Egypt, where more than half of the female population think the practice should continue. However, in most countries where FGM/C is concentrated (19 out of 29), the majority of girls and women think it should end. The data also show that between 1 per cent and 26 per cent of girls and women surveyed have mixed feelings on the subject, do not have a strong opinion or prefer not to express what they think.

In most countries where FGM/C is practised, the majority of girls and women think it should end

Notes: The category of girls and women who are unsure or responded that ‘it depends’ also includes those for whom data are missing. In Liberia, only cut girls and women were asked about their attitudes towards FGM/C; since girls and women from practising communities are more likely to support the practice, the level of support in this country as captured by the 2007 DHS is higher than would be anticipated had all girls and women been asked their opinion. Data for Yemen refer to ever-married girls and women. MICS data for Ghana (2011), Nigeria (2011) and Sierra Leone (2010) were not used to report on attitudes towards FGM/C due to the fact that information is missing for girls and women with no living daughters; data from older surveys (2006─2008) were used for these three countries. Due to rounding, the data presented in this figure may not add up to 100 per cent.

Sources: DHS, MICS and Sudan Household Health Survey, 1997─2012.

IS THE PRACTICE CHANGING?

In more than half of the 29 countries where FGM/C is concentrated, prevalence is significantly lower in adolescent girls than in middle-aged women. The decline in prevalence is particularly sharp in some countries, including Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania, where women aged 45 to 49 are about three times more likely to have been cut than girls aged 15 to 19. In Benin, Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria, prevalence has dropped by about half among adolescent girls when compared to older women. In contrast, no significant changes in prevalence between generations have been observed in Chad, Djibouti, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

In most of the 29 countries where FGM/C is concentrated, the practice is less common among adolescent girls than middle-aged women

Notes: Confidence intervals for Sierra Leone could not be calculated since the prevalence among girls aged 15 to 19 has been adjusted. Confidence intervals for Yemen could not be calculated since access to the data set is restricted. This chart has not been updated since the release of the source publication.

Source: UNICEF, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change, UNICEF, New York, 2013, p. 101.

[1] World Health Organization, Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation: An interagency statement, WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNIFEM, OHCHR, UNHCR, UNECA, UNESCO, UNDP, UNAIDS, WHO, Geneva, 2008, p. 4. 

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Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting
Percentage of girls and women aged 15-49 years who have undergone FGM/C (by place of residence and household wealth quintile) Download Data
Percentage of girls who have undergone FGM/C (as reported by their mothers, by place of residence and household wealth quintile) Download Data
Percentage of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years who have heard about FGM/C and think the practice should continue (by place of residence and household wealth quintile) Download Data
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Publication

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change

This report is a comprehensive statistical overview of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in the 29 countries where the practice is concentrated. Analysis of the data reflects current perspectives on FGM/C, informed by the latest policy, programmatic and theoretical evidence.

 

Country Profiles

FGMC Country Profiles

These statistical profiles present the latest available data on female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) for 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East. They provide figures on how widespread the practice of FGM/C is, when and how it is performed, and what women and men think about the practice. Trends in prevalence and attitudes are also presented.

 
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Publication

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change, Executive Summary

This report is a comprehensive statistical overview of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in the 29 countries where the practice is concentrated. Analysis of the data reflects current perspectives on FGM/C, informed by the latest policy, programmatic and theoretical evidence.

 

Notes on the Data

DATA SOURCES

Nationally representative data on FGM/C are mainly available from two sources: Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS). In some countries, data have been collected through other nationally representative household surveys.

A module on FGM/C was developed for the first time for the 1989–1990 DHS conducted in the northern part of what was then known as Sudan. After a few years, the module was modified and has been included in DHS for 23 countries to date. The first module on FGM/C was included in the 2000 MICS in the Central African Republic, Chad and Sudan. The third and fourth rounds of MICS (mainly conducted in 2005–2006 and in 2009─2011) generated updated FGM/C data from 16 countries, including 7 with no prior data (Djibouti, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Togo). Over the last 10 years, UNICEF and ICF International have worked closely to standardize survey questions on FGM/C used in DHS and MICS. 

MAIN INDICATORS

The first indicator for measuring FGM/C prevalence is the percentage of girls and women of reproductive age (15 to 49) who have experienced any form of the practice. This is derived from self-reports. Typically, girls and women are also asked about the type of FGM/C performed, at what age they were cut and by whom. Most surveys include additional questions related to women’s – and in some cases men’s – attitudes surrounding FGM/C. In most surveys, eligible respondents are all girls and women aged 15 to 49. Exceptions include Egypt (DHS in 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2005), Sudan (DHS 1989─1990) and Yemen (DHS 1997), where the sample of respondents includes only girls and women aged 15 to 49 who have ever been married.

The second indicator used to report on the practice measures the extent of cutting among daughters of girls and women of reproductive age (15 to 49). In surveys up to 1999, female respondents who had at least one living daughter were asked about their eldest daughter: whether she was cut, the age at which FGM/C was performed, the type of FGM/C carried out and the person who did it. If the eldest daughter was reportedly not cut, respondents were asked if they intended to have their daughter cut. Starting in 1999, rather than asking about the eldest daughter, DHS and MICS began asking respondents whether any of their daughters had undergone FGM/C and, if so, how many of their daughters had been cut. This was followed by questions about the procedure (type, age at cutting and practitioner) for the daughter most recently cut.

Survey data on the FGM/C status of only one daughter cannot be used to estimate the prevalence of FGM/C among girls under age 15. To address this limitation, MICS and DHS in 2010 introduced changes in the standard methodology used to collect information on FGM/C among daughters. The new module asks all girls and women aged 15 to 49 about the FGM/C status of all of their daughters under age 15. As a result, prevalence estimates can be obtained for girls aged 0 to 14. A key point to be kept in mind is that the prevalence data for girls aged 0 to 14 reflect their current, but not final, FGM/C status, since some girls who have not been cut may still be at risk of experiencing the practice once they reach the customary age. Therefore, the data on prevalence for girls under age 15 is actually an underestimation of the true extent of the practice. Since age at cutting varies among settings, the amount of underestimation also varies. This should be kept in mind when interpreting all FGM/C prevalence data for this age group. Prevalence data on girls aged 0 to 14 can be used to assess the impact of recent efforts to end FGM/C since this is the age group most recently cut or at imminent risk of being cut. 

INTERPRETING THE DATA

Data on FGM/C inform policymakers of critically important variables in an effort to better understand the practice and develop policies for its abandonment. That said, these data must be analysed in light of the extremely delicate and often sensitive nature of the topic.

Self-reported data on FGM/C need to be treated with caution for several reasons. First, women may be unwilling to disclose having undergone the procedure because of the sensitivity of the topic or the illegal status of the practice in their country. In addition, women may be unaware that they have been cut or of the extent of the cutting, particularly if FGM/C was performed at an early age.

Information on the FGM/C status of daughters is generally regarded as more reliable than women’s self-reports, since any cutting would have occurred relatively recently and mothers presumably would have had some involvement in or knowledge of the event. However, even these data need to be interpreted with a degree of caution. Mothers may be reluctant to disclose the actual FGM/C status of their daughters for fear of repercussions, especially in countries where the practice has been the target of campaigns or legal measures to prohibit it.

With increased availability of nationally representative data on FGM/C, including repeat surveys in several countries, trends in the prevalence and attitudes towards the practice can be analysed. Despite this, considerable challenges arise when examining trends, particularly when establishing a connection between programmatic activities and changes in prevalence levels over time.

First, prevalence can be compared from surveys in the same country from two (or more) points in time. Second, a trend analysis can examine FGM/C prevalence at one point in time across five-year age cohorts for girls and women aged 15 to 49. Finally, current prevalence among girls and women aged 15 to 19 and ‘adjusted’ prevalence among girls aged 10 to 14 can be analysed. Several important factors should be considered when examining trends in the practice:

  • Variations in the number of years between consecutive surveys. This can range from 1 to up to 20, depending on the country.
  • The number of data points available for each country. Patterns of change are more evident when several surveys are available, as opposed to two data sources.
  • The retrospective periods involved (that is, time lags). For instance, in the case of a country where girls are cut before 1 year of age, most girls in the youngest cohort (15 to 19 years of age) are generally reporting on an event that took place 14 to 18 years previously. Any change that occurred after this period will therefore not be reflected in the data.
  • The magnitude of change. Change can be gauged by looking either at the absolute difference (change in percentage points) between estimates or at the percentage change between estimates. Conclusions should be drawn on the basis of both measures.
  • Survey design and implementation. This could include, for example, changes in sampling frames, questionnaire content and structure, and language used to refer to the practice.

     

More detailed discussion of data collection methodologies and assessment of trends related to FGM/C can be found in: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change.

MICS MODULE ON FGM/C

MICS surveys have a standardized module for female genital mutilation/cutting. 

Download the MICS module on FGM/C (PDF)