Female genital mutilation: Horrific abuse of human rights

Female Genital Mutilation comprises all procedures involving the removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This practice is an abuse of human rights and causes serious health complications, including fatal bleeding.

Types of FGM

Female Genital Mutilation comprises all procedures involving the removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. On average girls are subjected to FGM between birth and age 15. FGM is not prescribed by any religion and has no health benefits. On the contrary the practice can cause life-lasting physical and psychological trauma.

200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM. At current rates, an additional estimated 68 million girls face being cut by 2030.


How is FGM practised?

The type of mutilation practised, the age at which it is carried out and the way in which it is done, vary according to a variety of factors. These include:

  • The women or girls' ethnic group;

  • What country they are living in (whether in a rural or urban area);

  • Their socio-economic background.

FGM is usually performed by traditional practitioners using a sharp object such as a knife, a razor blade or broken glass. There is also evidence of an increase in the performance of FGM by medical personnel. However, medicalisation of FGM is denounced by the World Health Organisation.

A multi-country study by WHO in six African countries, showed that women who had undergone FGM, had significantly increased risks for adverse events during childbirth, and that genital mutilation in mothers has negative effects on their newborn babies. According to the study, an additional one to two babies per 100 deliveries die as a result of FGM.

FGM violates children's rights

FGM is practised on girls usually in the range of 0-15 years. Hence, the practice of FGM violates children’s rights as defined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC):

  • The right to be free from discrimination (Article 2);

  • The right to be protected from all forms of mental and physical violence and maltreatment (Article 19(1));

  • The right to highest attainable standard of health (Article 24);

  • The right of freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 37).

According to the UN Committee on CRC, “discrimination against girl children is a serious violation of rights, affecting their survival and all areas of their young lives as well as restricting their capacity to contribute positively to society” (2005).

Moreover, the negative effects of FGM on children’s development contravene the best interest of the child - a central notion to the Convention (Article 3).

Because it is performed without the consent of the girls, it also breaches the right to express freely one’s view (Article 12). Even if the girl child is aware of the practice, the issue of consent remains, as girls are usually too young to be consulted and have no voice in the decision made on their behalf by members of their family. On the other hand, adolescent girls and women very often agree to undergo FGM because they fear the non-acceptance of their communities, families and peers, according to 2008 Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture.

FGM also impacts on the right to dignity and directly conflicts with the right to physical integrity, as it involves the mutilation of healthy body parts.

The Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child has said that States party to the Convention have an obligation “to protect adolescents from all harmful traditional practices, such as early marriages, honour killings and female genital mutilation” (2003).

The International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is a UN campaign held on February 6 to stop genital mutilation to girls and women.

Tu Pham