KHARTOUM, Aug 24 (AFP) — The Sudanese government admitted Sunday that up to 90 percent of women in the country’s northern provinces suffer from genital mutilation and called for fresh steps to eradicate the practice.
Health Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman made the announcement at a news conference ahead of a three-day African conference on female genital mutilation due to open here Tuesday.
He said circumcision is "increasing by alarming proportions" to include some 85 to 90 percent of women in the predominantly Muslim northern provinces.
He gave no estimates about the numbers affected in the predominantly Christian and animist southern region, under guerrilla control.
The minister blamed tradition and popular belief for the continuing growth of the practice despite a religious decree or fatwa last year stressing there was no link between Islam and female genital mutilation.
"The eradication of this practice can only be achieved by unifying popular and official efforts with those of the medical profession, the media and religious leaders," Osman said.
International human rights bodies have said the type of female circumcision practiced in Sudan and elsewhere, is the probably worst in the world.
Technically known as infibulation, it is defined by the World Health Organization as the "excision of part or all of the external genitalia and the stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening."
It is carried out on girls aged between seven and 11 before they reach puberty and can cause internal bleeding, urine retention and infections.
The only Arab countries where female circumcision is known to be carried out are Egypt, Sudan and Yemen, which imported the practice from Africa, where it is deemed essential to protect the honor of girls.