6 February 2009The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today called for greater efforts to end female genital mutilation, as the agency marked the International Day against the harmful practice that three million girls and women endure each year. “Some 70 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to female genital cutting,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said in a message on the International Day against Female Genital Mutilation. “While some communities have made real progress in abandoning this dangerous practice, the rights, and even the lives, of too many girls continue to be threatened,” she added.Female genital mutilation or cutting is the partial or total removal of the external genitalia – undertaken for cultural or other non-medical reasons – often causing severe pain and sometimes resulting in prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death.Genital cutting can produce complications during child birth, increasing the chances of death or disability for both mother and child.Although this practice is in decline, it remains prevalent in many countries and often against national laws, particularly in Africa and the Middle East. In the Central African Republic (CAR), for example, about 28 per cent of women are circumcised despite a 1966 law prohibiting the tradition.Foncy Kongo, a 29-year old woman from the CAR, works with the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices (CIAF) trying to stop genital cutting in her country.As a 10-year old growing up in Bria, central CAR, Kongo was used to hearing about girls undergoing circumcision, she told UNICEF.“It is part of our traditional culture, like a rite of passage into womanhood. Most women in my family are circumcised and even in school there was peer pressure as the girls would contest their womanhood,” she said.When her turn came she ran away from home only to be dragged back to the house a few hours later. “I was scared. I’d heard of girls who died because they lost too much blood.”Kongo did not die but she experienced immense pain and urinal problems after she was circumcised.In 2008 data shows that 17 per cent of women in Bangui, the CAR capital, are circumcised and more than 71per cent of women in Haute Kotto, where Kongo grew up, are victims of the cultural practice.In February last year, 10 UN agencies banded together to pledge their support for eliminating the life-threatening practice within a generation and aiming for a major reduction in many countries by 2015, the year the Millennium Development Goals are set to be achieved.