Sexual and reproductive health

Female genital mutilation and other harmful practices

Trends in female genital mutilation

Although prevalence data obtained over the last decade have shown little change in the frequency of FGM, they do reveal several trends. Possibly as a result of an emphasis on the negative health implications of FGM, there has been a dramatic increase in the proportion of FGM operations carried out by trained health-care personnel.

Today, 94% of women in Egypt arrange for their daughters to undergo this “medicalized” form of FGM, 76% in Yemen, 65% in Mauritania, 48% in Côte d’Ivoire, and 46% in Kenya. This approach may reduce some of the immediate consequences of the procedure (such as pain and bleeding) but, as WHO and UNICEF point out, it also tends to obscure its human rights aspect and could hinder the development of long-term solutions for ending the practice.

There has also been a lowering in some countries of the average age at which a girl is subjected to the procedure. (1) This could be to some extent the result of anti-FGM legislation: the younger the girl, the easier it is to elude legal scrutiny. Another possible adverse effect of legislation is, as often occurs with abortion, its tendency to drive FGM underground or encourage a cross-border movement of women from a country where the practice is illegal to a neighbouring country where it is allowed.

One encouraging trend seen consistently in countries for which data from at least two surveys are available is that women aged 15–19 years are less likely to have been submitted to FGM than are women in older age groups. In almost all of these countries, support for the discontinuation of the practice is particularly high among younger women.

bar graph showing prevalence of FGM in women and daughters
Prevalence of FGM in women and daughters

Notes: Countries are listed from higher to lower levels of FGM/C among women

Source: Female genital mutilation/cutting: a statistical exploration. New York, NY: UNICEF; 2005.


(1) Yoder PS, Abderrahim N, Zhuzhuni A. Female genital cutting in the Demographic Health Surveys: a critical and comparative analysis. Calverton, MD: ORC Marco; 2004 (DHS Comparative Reports No. 7).