Around 200 million girls and women alive today are suffering the physical and psychological effects of female genital mutilation. The practice mainly occurs in Africa and the Middle East.
The director of the U.N. Population Fund's Geneva office, Monica Ferro, said FGM has no medical benefits, only devastating consequences. She told VOA that women and girls who have undergone the procedure suffer long-term physical and psychological harm.
"It often leads to bleeding, to infections, to infertility and to complications that will endure a lifetime, be it by urinal infections, by complications while delivering, while giving birth … sometimes it even leads to death," Ferro said.
Besides the heavy human toll, there is a steep economic cost. A new report by the World Health Organization estimates that medical care necessitated by FGM totals $1.4 billion a year. For some countries, the costs represent nearly 10 percent of total health care spending annually. In a few nations, the WHO says, the figure is as high as 30 percent.
Ferro said an estimated 61 million girls will be mutilated between now and 2030 in countries where FGM is prevalent. Despite this prospect, she said, huge progress has been made in the regions and countries where the U.N. is working to end the practice.
"But due to the fact that the countries with the highest prevalence of FGM are, at the same time, countries with high population growth, that actually makes the absolute number of girls at risk higher than before. But the rate is improving," she said.
Activists say support for FGM is dwindling. In countries where female genital mutilation is prevalent, they noted that adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 are less supportive of the practice than are women aged 45 to 49, adding that young people can play a critical role in accelerating FGM's demise.