About 44,000 girls and women die every year in Africa from female genital mutilation, a new study published in Nature Scientific Reports has revealed.
Two researchers from the universities of Birmingham and Exeter found that a 50 per cent increase in girls subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) amplifies their five-year mortality rate by 0.075 per cent.
They also found that continued FGM perpetuates obstetric complications, diminished sexual function, and enhanced physical and mental health among girls.
The figures now put FGM among the primary causes of death among girls, surpassing even HIV/Aids, measles, meningitis, malnutrition-related fatalities, injuries, and whooping cough.
The scholars analyzed the numbers of girls subjected to FGM in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania.
Co-author James Rockey, from the University of Birmingham, said their findings show FGM is a leading cause of death amongst girls and young women in countries where it is practised, adding that a lasting solution requires changing attitudes.
“There is cause for optimism, as work on non-communicable diseases shows effective interventions are possible, but change in patriarchal attitudes often lags other societal change – an important first step would be for FGM to be made illegal in the countries where it is within the law, given that legal change can lead to cultural change,” said Prof Rockey.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the aggregate cost of medical treatment for girls and women after FGM was $1.4 billion in 2018. However, until now, there has been no systematic evidence about the role of FGM in the global epidemiology of child mortality, reflecting difficulties in measuring the practice.
A key social dimension of FGM is how it affects marriage. For example, the practice influences women’s marriage opportunities in Western Africa given its patriarchal culture and institutions.
“Our research suggests that decisions about FGM may reflect trade-offs between perceived disadvantages of FGM, such as pain and illegality, and expected benefits such reduced social sanctions and a higher bride-price – people may factor in an increased risk of death as part of that calculation,” added Prof Rockey.
In Africa, FGM is practised by certain communities in 33 countries. The researchers have called for the practice to be made illegal in Mali, Malawi, Chad, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, given that legal change can lead to cultural change.
They also rooted for efforts to be stepped up to eliminate FGM.
An estimated 55 million girls under the age of 15 in 28 African countries have experienced, or are at risk of experiencing, FGM, which remains prevalent in parts of West, East, Central, and Northern Africa, despite 28 countries having anti-FGM laws or legal provisions.
More than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and the age 15.