A harrowing new report from UNICEF has found that at least 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have been subjected to full or partial removal of their external genitalia, a bump of 70 million from 2014. New data from Indonesia, where nearly half of all girls under 14 have undergone the procedure, led to the increase.

The actual number is likely to be much, much higher than 200 million. Claudia Cappa, the lead author of the report, told the New Yorker: “We still don’t have robust national figures that can give us a sense of the scope.” Tanya Sukhija, program officer with Equality Now, told NPR that this is the first time the Indonesian government has collected information on FGM—“I think they are seeing a lot of international pressure to take the issue seriously.”

This new report has challenged the widely-accepted narrative that FGM is a single-continent issue. From The New Yorker:

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The new data from Indonesia and anecdotal information from other countries—including Malaysia, India, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman—produced a second discovery. “The geographic center is now shifting,” Cappa said. “It’s not just concentrated in Africa, as was long believed. There’s now recognition that the practice is global.”

Indonesia accounts for 60 of the 70 million additional women and girls found to have undergone the procedure, which takes several different forms and causes everything from immediate and extreme physical complications (including death) to sexual dysfunction and childbirth complications. The remaining 10 million, according to NPR, comes from population growth in countries where the practice continues.

UNICEF has tracked the data on F.G.M./C. in thirty countries. Three—Egypt, Ethiopia, and Indonesia—account for about a hundred million girls and women who have undergone mutilation, about half the global total. Somalia has the highest per-capita percentage; ninety-eight per cent of females there have been circumcised. In Sudan, Eritrea, Mali, Sierra Leone, Djibouti, and Guinea, more than eighty per cent of females between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine have been mutilated. In Egypt, UNICEF notes, sixty-five per cent of the mutilations are performed at home, using a blade or a razor; twenty-five per cent are performed without anesthetic.

The New Yorker points out that over 500,000 girls and women in the U.S. have either undergone FGM or are at a high risk to do so; most are from immigrant families.

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The UNICEF report found, however, that there has been an “overall decline in the prevalence of FGM/C over the last three decades,” with Kenya, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Liberia and Togo standing as examples of countries in which genital cutting has dramatically decreased. But the report notes:

“Current progress is insufficient to keep up with increasing population growth. If trends continue, the number of girls and women undergoing FGM/C will rise significantly over the next 15 years.”


Contact the author at ellie@jezebel.com.

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Image via Associated Press.