The prevalence of FGM varies greatly between countries. It is the highest in North African countries such as Somalia and Egypt. But in West African countries such as Cameroon and Nigeria FGM is also prevalent, albeit to a limited extent. In several countries of origin in Africa and Asia and in many immigration countries, national governments have developed policies to prevent and/or ban FGM. Also, international organizations such as WHO have drafted guidelines for an international approach to FGM.

Policy and laws

International organizations such as the UN and WHO have developed FGM policies pertaining to different continents and globally. These broad international policies and the initiatives taken in Africa and Europe are closely linked.

International developments

The following is a chronological overview of major international developments in policies regarding FGM.

1950’sThe issue of FGM highlighted in the Committee of Human Rights for the first time.
1960’s -1970’sAwareness campaigns on the effects of FGM by women inside and outside of Africa.
1976The WHO spoke out against FGM and called upon all governments to eradicate it.
1979At a conference in Khartoum, the WHO condemned all forms of FGM and called upon governments to:
  • implement clear political policies
  • increase education of communities and health professionals
  • prohibit doctors to perform FGM
1984Establishment Inter African Committee (IAC).
1980’s – 1990’sGrowing recognition of FGM as a violation of the rights of children and women, and human rights in general. FGM has been recognized in treaties as a violation of rights of children and women. More and more countries have signed these treaties.
1994 – 1995Attention paid to FGM at/in the:
  • International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), Cairo, September 1994
  • Beijing Platform of Action, September 1995
1997Publication of Joint Statement of WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA. This was updated in 2008.
2001Establishment of the Donors Working Group on FGM/C.
2002Start of the Campaign Stop FGM:
  • Partly as a result of immigration from cultures in which FGM is performed, European policy makers pledged to support the global fight against FGM.
  • Start of numerous campaigns and activities in Africa.
2003The Inter African Committee announced February 6 to be the International Day of Zero Tolerance Against Female Genital Mutilation.
Maputo Protocol: This protocol of the African Union (all 53 countries) aims to strengthen and promote women’s rights on the African continent. In this document, violence against women, including FGM, is condemned. Until date, 46 of the 53 African countries have signed the Protocol, and 28 countries have ratified it, including 15 countries in which FGM is being practiced.
2005UNICEF launched the social convention model. This model is based on the gradual establishment of a social norm in which female circumcision is no longer performed nor tolerated. The social convention model has been applied in five African countries (Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal and Sudan).
2006Fatwa against FGM declared by the top Islamic leader in Egypt.
2007Declaration against FGM of Dutch imams, based on the 2006 fatwa.
2008Publication of the WHO Interagency Statement, an update of the joint statement of 1997.
2008 – 2012Joint Programme and Trust Fund of UNFPA and UNICEF.
The goals of this programme were: 1) a 40% decrease of FGM among 0-15 year old girls in 17 African countries and 2) at least one country free of FGM in 2012. The experience of this programme can serve as a model for addressing FGM in Europe and the Netherlands. See the ongoing reports on the website.
2009Adoption of a resolution by the European Parliament on March 24, 2009, which calls upon Member States to develop national policies for the entire chain of prevention, early detection, reporting, aftercare, investigation and prosecution.
2011Fatwa against FGM, pronounced in Mauritania by religious leaders from ten African countries.
Adoption of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention).
2012Adoption of a resolution by the European Parliament on June 14, 2012, on ending female genital mutilation.
Adoption of a resolution by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 20, 2012, calling for a global ban on female genital mutilation.
2013Publication of a report of the European Commission aimed at better understanding and combating FGM in the EU: Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council.
UNHCR publication on FGM among asylum seekers in Europe: Too Much Pain: Female Genital Mutilation and Asylum in the European Union – A Statistical Overview.
Strategy paper of the European Commission on stepping up the fight against FGM within and outside the European Union (press release).
2014Publication of the Council of Europe and Amnesty International about FGM and the Istanbul Convention: The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. A tool to end FGM.

Istanbul Convention

There is currently no specific EU legislation with regards to FGM. However, the topic has been addressed in various sectors of the European legal system, including the Council of Europe and the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality of the European Parliament.

A first step towards EU legislation is the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention) of 2011. This Convention of the Council of Europe aims to prevent and combat violence against women (including FGM). The convention is a binding legal treaty for countries that have signed it. It creates conditions for the development of legislation to protect women against all forms of violence and to prosecute violent crimes against women. More and more countries have ratified the Convention. On November 18th, 2015, this was done by the Netherlands. It entered into force on March 1, 2016.

In 2014, Amnesty International and the Council of Europe published a guide to draw attention to the Istanbul Convention and its provisions on FGM among policy makers, health professionals and activists.

The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence(Council of Europe/Amnesty International, 2014)

Investigation and prosecution

Many national governments have prohibited the circumcision of girls. In many countries, including the Netherlands, this ban has been placed under the general law. Some countries have developed specific legislation, such as Sweden, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Austria and Norway. The report ‘Responding to female genital mutilation in Europe’, which was published by the International Centre for Reproductive Health (ICRH, Belgium) in 2009, provides information on this subject.

Responding to female genital mutilation. Striking the right balance in Europe between prosecution and prevention(ICRH, 2009)

To date, the investigation and prosecution of FGM in the Netherlands has not yet led to any convictions. From previous research and publications much is already known about the effects of policies and regulations with regards to FGM in Belgium, France, the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany. These studies show that especially France has been successful in the criminal investigation and prosecution of FGM. The French criminal approach has been analysed in the research report ‘Criminal investigation and prosecution of female genital mutilation – The French practice’ (in Dutch, but with an English summary).

Abstract Criminal investigation and prosecution of female genital mutilation – The French practice (WODC, Ministry of Justice/Boom Legal Publishers, 2010)

In 2016 Annemarie Middelburg promoted on the topic of human and children’s rights in relation to FGM (see also chapter 17 of ‘The Routledge International Handbook of Children’s Rights Studies’, 2016).

Worldwide prevalence and risk of FGM

An estimated 100-140 million girls and women worldwide have been circumcised. Annually, three million girls are at risk of being circumcised.

Variation in prevalence

There can be significant differences in the  prevalence of FGM between countries and between regions within countries. Click here for information about the situation in specific countries.

Reliable information

Reliable or not, to a certain extent there is information available about most ‘traditional’ countries of origin in Africa (and Yemen) on the occurrence of FGM. But about many ‘emerging’ countries, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, we still know very little. Also for the countries in Europe and other immigration countries (e.g., Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA) there are no reliable and accurate figures on FGM available. Important sources for prevalence figures include USAIDUNICEF and WADI.

Organizations and Networks

Partner organizations

Networks in Europe and beyond

  • End FGM Europe is the European network for the prevention and control of harmful traditional practices – particularly FGM – that affect the health of women and children.
  • REPLACE2 is a European community-based intervention with the aim of combating FGM in Europe by stimulating opinion and behavioural change at individual and community levels.
  • The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) is an independent research institute of the European Union aimed at combating inequality and violence between men and women. FGM is an important part of their focus.
  • The International Refugee Rights Initiative aims to collect and share information on legal assistance to refugees from and to different countries. There is a specific page about the legal grounds for asylum in FGM cases.

Other organizations

  • The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices (IAC) is a regional umbrella organization in Africa, which has developed policies and programmes to eradicate female genital mutilation, child marriage and other harmful traditional practices since 1984.
  • WADI, a German-Iraqi Association, promotes self-help programmes in the Middle East since 1992, especially in Israel, Jordan and Iraq. WADI supports various programmes and projects to strengthen people’s capacities and to promote human rights in the Middle East. The association focuses, among others, on women’s rights, assistance for victims of domestic violence, and campaigns against FGM.
  • Coventry University (UK) implemented the project ‘Supporting young girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM)’. Employees of the university have developed an app for British girls at risk of FGM. The purpose of the app is to give girls and young women the information they need to make informed choices about what they allow or do not allow to happen with their bodies.
  • INTACT (Population Council) is the International Network to Analyze, Communicate and Transform the Campaign against FGM/C. INTACT is an international group of scientists and activists who use scientific evidence in the campaign against FGM and provide a forum for the debate on FGM.
  • The ICRH (International Centre for Reproductive Health) is a multidisciplinary research centre that is part of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the University of Ghent, Belgium. One of its concerns is sexual violence, which includes harmful traditional practices such as FGM.
  • UNHCR is the UN agency that focuses on the protection of refugees and finding solutions for the worldwide refugee problem. UNHCR organizes among others awareness campaigns on FGM for refugees living in camps or in urban areas in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen.
  • UNICEF is working worldwide for children’s rights. UNICEF is currently trying to eradicate FGM in more than 20 countries. Since 2008, UNICEF has worked with UNFPA in 15 of those countries in a joint programme. This programme supports governments and other partners in strengthening legislation and setting up campaigns against FGM.
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