UNITED NATIONS (AP) — At least 200 million girls and women in 30 countries are estimated to have undergone female circumcision — half of them in Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia, the U.N. children's agency said in a report released Thursday night.
The UNICEF statistical report said the global figure includes nearly 70 million more girls and women than it estimated in 2014. It said this is due to population growth in some countries and new data from Indonesia.
The U.N. General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution in December 2012 calling for a global ban on female genital mutilation, a centuries-old practice stemming from the belief that circumcising girls controls women's sexuality and enhances fertility. One of the targets in the new U.N. goals adopted last September calls for the practice to be eliminated by 2030.
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta said in a statement coinciding with the new report that "determining the magnitude of female genital mutilation is essential to eliminating the practice."
While there has been an overall decline in the prevalence of female genital mutilation over the last three decades, UNICEF said it isn't enough to keep up with increasing population growth. If current trends continue, it warned that the number of girls and women undergoing FGM "will rise significantly over the next 15 years."
UNICEF statistical expert Claudia Cappa, lead author of the report, said the estimate of 200 million circumcisions comes from household surveys on the prevalence of female genital mutilation, and statistical modeling.
The 30 countries, mainly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, "have large-scale representative data," she told AP. "We still think this is a conservative estimate because we know there are many more countries where the practice exists, but we couldn't report on it with the same level of care because we don't have available data."
Cappa said the practice exists in other countries not in the study, where large-scale data was not available, like India, Malaysia, Oman, Saudia Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, as well as in pockets in Australia, North America and Europe where immigrants from countries with a large number of female circumcisions live.
In the 30 countries, UNICEF said the majority of girls were circumcised before reaching their fifth birthdays. "In Yemen, 85 percent of girls experienced the practice within their first week of life," the agency said.
According to the data, girls under the age of 14 represent an estimated 44 million of those who have been cut, with the highest prevalence in this age group in Gambia at 56 percent, Mauritania at 54 percent and Indonesia where about half of girls aged 11 or under have undergone the practice.
Countries with the highest prevalence among girls and women aged 15 to 49 are Somalia at 98 percent, Guinea at 97 percent and Djibouti at 93 percent, UNICEF said.