NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Advances in fighting female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage could be offset by population growth unless the rate of progress increases, according to new data released Tuesday by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
UNICEF issued the new information in conjunction with the first-ever Girl Summit, which it co-hosted in London with the UK government, designed to spur faster progress in ending two traditional practices which scar and stunt the lives of millions of girls globally.
“FGM and child marriage profoundly and permanently harm girls, denying them their right to make their own decisions and to reach their full potential. They are detriments to the girls themselves, their families, and their societies,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement.
“Girls are not property; they have the right to determine their destiny. When they do so, everyone benefits,” he said.
Due partly to community activism and legislation, the prevalence of FGM, which involves the cutting away of the external female genitalia, and the marriage of girls under the age of 18 has decreased slightly over the last 30 years, UNICEF said. But, unless progress accelerates, those gains will be lost as population grows in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practices are most common.
Here are some of UNICEF’s findings:
- Overall, an adolescent girl today is about a third less likely to undergo FGM than 30 years ago. That is the rate of decline in Kenya and Tanzania, while rates in the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria have dropped by as much as half during the same three decades.
- More than 130 million girls and women in Africa and the Middle East have experienced some form of FGM, which can cause psychological pain and severe physical complications, including death. If the rate of decrease over the last 30 years is sustained—not increased--up to 63 million more girls could be cut by 2050.
- Child marriage remains widespread, particularly in South and East Asia and the Pacific. Globally more than 700 million women alive today were married as children; more than one in three wed before the age of 15.
- Early marriage robs young girls of education, leaves them vulnerable to childbirth-related injuries, including death, and makes their newborns more likely to be stillborn or die within the first month of life.
- Some progress has been made. In Indonesia, the rate of marriage under the age of 18 is less than half of what it was 30 years ago.
- If the rate of decrease of the past three decades stays the same, population growth will leave the rate of child marriage flat through 2050. If the rate of decline doubled, the number of women married as children would drop to 570 million by 2030 and to 450 million by 2050.
(Editing by Maria Caspani: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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