50 million African girls at risk of undergoing FGM

An AU report says 50 million girls in Africa are at risk of undergoing FGM if concerted actions are not taken.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Cases of mass cutting of girls have been rampant in Kenya's 22 hotspot counties, especially when schools close.
  • AU survey reveals that the Covid-19 crisis could see additional two million girls being cut on the continent by 2030.

As the schools remained closed for holidays last December, shocking details emerged of massive female genital mutilation (FGM) of girls in Kuria.

This sparked uproar and social media was awash with calls for action, with gender activists raising the red flag on mass cutting of girls.

The government swung into action and arrested 57 parents who were later charged in court for abetting FGM. Details later emerged that more than 500 girls were cut in the area, which is one of the regions with the highest FGM prevalence in the country.

Hundreds of others were lucky after they were rescued by anti-FGM crusaders and taken to safe houses. Anti-FGM Board CEO Bernadette Loloju, in an interview with Nation.Africaat the time, blamed cross-border FGM for the surge in Kuria West and East.

Cases of mass cutting of girls have been rampant in the country in the 22 hotspot counties, especially when schools close.

More than 50 million girls in Africa are at risk of undergoing FGM if concerted actions are not taken. This is according to a survey by African Union’s Saleema Initiative on eliminating FGM that seeks to end the practice.


The survey report also shows that the Covid-19 pandemic could see additional two million girls being cut on the continent by 2030. It further reveals mixed trends in the prevalence of FGM in Africa, with varied generational changes between and within countries and regions.

Countries with very low prevalence include Niger, Cameroon, Togo, Ghana and Uganda, while countries with a slight decline in prevalence are listed as Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania and Sudan. In these latter countries, there was limited success in convincing community members to abandon the practice en masse.

Countries with significant decline in prevalence included Benin, Nigeria, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Central African Republic and Egypt. The trend signifies a possible generational shift, where younger women are less likely to undergo FGM than older women.

However, there was no significant change in prevalence in Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, Mali, Guinea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Chad, indicating limited or lack of success by interventions.

The Saleema Initiative has been catalysing regional and national efforts towards eliminating the harmful practice. The efforts, also centered on eliminating gender-based violence, addressing gender inequalities and empowering women and girls, have been an urgent priority for the African Union Commission.

Despite increased anti-FGM campaign across the continent, the vice is still practised in 27 countries, with there being no significant change in prevalence in five countries. Several countries now have laws banning FGM and several are signatories to the human rights conventions and treaties.

“FGM is now being performed by trained healthcare professionals, as families seek to manage health risks, allowing the social norms underpinning the practice to endure. Families also believe that using healthcare providers minimises the risk of complications. Yet, this is often not the case as immediate and long-term health problems can remain and even death can occur when performed by healthcare professionals,” the report reads.

Covid-19 effects

The report also indicates the Covid-19 outbreak significantly slowed efforts towards eliminating FGM. The main drivers were school closures, movement restrictions, lockdowns and lack of integration of services within national Covid-19 responses by governments.

Restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus also constrained access to safe spaces and services for girls at risk, as well as survivors of FGM.

Limited access to communities for organisations carrying out FGM programming, the report indicates, could have resulted in increased rates in the practice, and lack of accurate data, alongside reduced funding.

To help end this menace, the report recommends a comprehensive, collaborative, multi-sectorial approaches and partnerships as a result of evidence that no standalone measures are effective.

The report also calls for the incorporation of human rights and gender equality indicators in national responses and harmonisation of national laws with human rights standards for the promotion of related health policies, programmes and services.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), about 140 million girls in Africa have undergone the cut, while 130 million girls have been married in their childhood, most of them after being cut.

The UN agency indicates that 80 per cent of the girls come from 28 African countries.