Little Girls Mutilated:
A Global Travesty
The numbers are really sickening. Last year, 3.6 million little girls were “cut” – or had their genitals mutilated. The crude cultural ritual involves the removal, usually with a knife or razor, of a girl’s clitoris and labia—and not always with anesthesia. The extent of the procedure varies, but the trauma and pain can last a lifetime.
The practice is still “almost universal” in Egypt, Somalia, Guinea and Djibouti, and common in more than 25 other countries, according to a report out today from UNICEF. It is even practiced in “pockets” of North America and Europe, UNICEF says.
When you read the numbers, think not of the many zeroes at the end, which can make any of us glaze over, but of the individual tales of each life one, by one, by one, and what each girl had to endure. Cutting is always done before puberty—sometimes when the girls are still tots, often between the ages of five and 14, but always when a girl is most vulnerable and unable to protect herself.
Worldwide, an estimated 125 million women alive today have been mutilated, primarily in Africa and the Middle East, even though the practice has been outlawed in many of the countries where families still force their girls to go through it. Cutting is the ultimate global barometer of gender inequality.
If the trend is not stemmed, another 30 million girls may be mutilated in the next decade, the UNICEF report predicts. The practice is all the more common in countries with high population rates, which means more girls, proportionately, will be liable to genital mutilation.
The practice survives for various reasons. It is usually related to age-old custom rather than religion. In many countries, the practice is common among Christians, Muslims and animists. It’s viewed as a means of preserving virginity or preventing promiscuity after marriage.
The dangers can last a life-time. Girls who are cut “are at risk of prolonged bleeding, infection including HIV, infertility and death,” reports UNICEF.
Some countries have made progress, UNICEF reports. Thirty years ago, half of all adolescent girls in Kenya were cut. At the current rate, it could decline to 10% by 2020, although even one girl mutilated is too much.
In another telling trend, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children—and over 250 million of them before they turned 15, UNICEF says. The highest rates are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In the West Africa country of Niger, 77% of women between the ages of 20 and 49 were married as children.
One of three child brides lives in India. In many countries, child marriage mirrors class, poverty and societal problems.
“A girl who is married as a child is more likely to be out of school, experience domestic abuse and contract sexually transmitted infections,” UNICEF reports. “She will have children when she herself is still a child, and is far more likely to die from complications during pregnancy.”
And this is the 21st century!