By Kieran Guilbert
DAKAR, April 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Girls in Guinea are increasingly being subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) before the age of 10, and support for the practice among women and girls in the West African nation is on the rise, the United Nations rights office said on Monday.
Seven in 10 women in Guinea aged 20 to 24 were cut before their tenth birthday, compared to 60 percent of women aged 45 to 49, despite the fact FGM has been illegal since 1965, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
While women and girls in most countries where FGM is practised largely want it to be abolished, three-quarters of the female population in Guinea were in favour of FGM as of 2012, up from two-thirds in 1999, according to the report by the OHCHR.
"Non-excision of girls is considered dishonourable in Guinean society," said the report. "Social pressure is such that girls may request excision for fear of being excluded or forced to remain unmarried if they do not suffer the practice."
While FGM is banned in Guinea, support from political and religious leaders, inaction by the justice system, and impunity for traditional practitioners and medical professionals who carry it out means the practice is widespread, said the report.
Guinea has the second highest rate of FGM in the world after Somalia, with around 97 percent of women and adolescent girls cut, according to the United Nations children's agency UNICEF.
"Although female genital mutilation appears to be decreasing worldwide, this is not the case in Guinea, where this practice is widespread in every region and among every ethnic, religious and social group," U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said.
FGM, often seen as a gateway to marriage and a way of preserving a girl's purity, involves the removal of the external genitalia and causes numerous health problems that can be fatal.
While the practice in Guinea is traditionally carried out in mass ceremonies as an initiation rite, an increasing number of girls are being cut individually - due to fear of legal sanctions - or by medical professionals, said the report.
Traditional practitioners rarely face legal proceedings and no health workers have been sanctioned for carrying out FGM, while members of the justice system who have tried to tackle the issue have received threats, according to the OHCHR.
"Thousands of young girls are excised across the country every year, during school vacations, with the full knowledge of judicial personnel, including prosecutors and instructing magistrates," the report said.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)
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