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Last Updated: Monday, 23 June, 2003, 18:42 GMT 19:42 UK
Female genital mutilation 'must end'

By Heba Saleh
BBC correspondent in Cairo

Woman who performs female circumcision (generic)
The custom is deeply rooted in many societies

Participants from 28 African and Arab countries have ended a high-profile conference on female genital mutilation with a call for more efforts to get the practice banned.

The assembled government and NGO representatives in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, said that where it is politically feasible, female circumcision should be prohibited by law.

Some two million girls, mainly in Africa and parts of the Arab world, undergo the procedure every year.

And in Egypt, despite a government ban since 1997, female genital mutilation remains extremely widespread.

Changing attitudes

The Cairo declaration on female genital mutilation calls on governments to adopt legislation against the practice.

In many societies circumcision is thought to be a religious requirement in order to keep girls chaste

It stops short, however, of asking for an immediate ban on female circumcision wherever it is practised.

The careful wording is a measure of the difficulties in combating a custom so deeply rooted in many societies.

The declaration says the practice should be prohibited by law wherever this is politically feasible, but it urges government in civil society to work together to change attitudes to women in order to eradicate circumcision.

More than 120 million women in Africa and the Arab world have undergone the procedure, in which parts of the female genital organs are removed.

'No justification'

In many societies, circumcision is thought to be a religious requirement in order to keep girls chaste.

The Cairo conference, however, was addressed by the two most senior Muslim and Christian religious leaders in Egypt.

Both said that female circumcision has no justification in religion.

This is a message which Egyptian women's associations have been trying to spread for decades.

A few years ago the government came on board and prohibited the practice, but the ban has proved weaker than the age-old tradition.

Female genital mutilation remains widespread.

And most Egyptian mothers still say they want their daughters to be circumcised.

Reversing female circumcision
08 Feb 03  |  Health
Kenyan girls flee mutilation
07 Feb 03  |  Africa

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