In Brief

FGM: 70 million more victims than previously thought

Unicef report estimates 200 million women around the world have been subjected to the procedure

New figures published today by the United Nations' children's charity, Unicef, say the number of women and girls who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) may be up to 70 million higher than estimated last year.

The report, released to coincide with International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM on 6 February, said up to 200 million procedures have been carried out in 30 countries around the world.

Somalia has the highest rate, with 98 per cent of women experiencing some form of circumcision, followed by Guinea and Djibouti. In terms of numbers, Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia accounted for half of the 200 million victims worldwide.

Claudia Cappa, the lead author of the report, admitted they were surprised by the figures, which were "higher than expected" after researchers gained access to better data in countries where previously they had relied on word-of-mouth reports

"In countries where data was not available, we had previously only had anecdotal evidence," she said. "It shows [FGM] is a global issue, when the focus has previously been on Africa."

Of the 200 million estimated victims, around 44 million were 14 or younger when they underwent the procedure, according to the statistics, the majority being circumcised before the age of five.

"In Yemen, 85 per cent of girls experienced the practice within their first week of life," the report said.

Although the rate at which FGM is carried out has declined significantly in some countries over recent years, population growth means the overall number of victims is still on the rise, says the agency. If current trends continue, 15 million more girls will be subject to the procedure before 2030

FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, but 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are thought to be at risk of being circumcised, either within the UK or – more commonly – after being taken to their family's country of origin for the procedure.

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