How is it practised?

The type of mutilation practiced, the age at which it is carried out and the way in which it is done, vary according to a variety of factors. These include the woman or girl’s ethnic group, what country they are living in, whether in a rural or urban area and their socio-economic background.

The procedure is carried out at a variety of ages, ranging from shortly after birth to sometime during the first pregnancy. It most commonly occurs between the ages of 0 to 15 years and the age is decreasing in some countries. The practice has been linked in some countries with rites of passage for women.

FGM is usually performed by traditional practitioners using a sharp object such as a knife, a razor blade or broken glass. There is also evidence of an increase in the performance of FGM by medical personnel. However, medicalisation of FGM is denounced by the World Health Organisation.

FGM violates children's rights

FGM is practiced on girls usually in the range of 0-15 years. Hence, the practice of FGM violates children’s rights as defined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), in particular the right to be free from discrimination (Article 2), right to be protected from all forms of mental and physical violence and maltreatment (Article 19(1)), the right to highest attainable standard of health (Article 24) and freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 37).

According to the UN Committee on CRC, “discrimination against girl children is a serious violation of rights, affecting their survival and all areas of their young lives as well as restricting their capacity to contribute positively to society” (2005).

Moreover, the negative effects of FGM on children’s development contravene the best interest of the child - a central notion to the Convention (Article 3).

Because it is performed without the consent of the girls it also breaches the right to express freely one’s view (Article 12). Even if the girl child is aware of the practice the issue of consent remains, as girls are usually too young to be consulted and have no voice in the decision made on their behalf by members of their family. On the other hand, adolescent girls and women very often agree to undergo FGM because they fear the non-acceptance of their communities, families and peers, according to 2008 Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture.

FGM also impacts on the right to dignity and directly conflicts with the right to physical integrity, as it involves the mutilation of healthy body parts.

The Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child has said that States party to the Convention have an obligation “to protect adolescents from all harmful traditional practices, such as early marriages, honour killings and female genital mutilation” (2003).