UN says cross-border female genital mutilation impeding eradication efforts

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations human rights office on Friday warned that the global fight against female genital mutilation was being undermined by families crossing borders to have girls undergo the procedure.

A report by the U.N. rights office found that some families in countries where the practice is banned were travelling to neighbouring states or further afield where it was legal or where law criminalising it were not enforced.

"Female genital mutilation is part of a continuum of gender-based violence and has no place in a human rights-respecting universe," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a statement.

"It must be eliminated in all of its forms, and the gender stereotypes and patriarchal norms that anchor and perpetuate it uprooted."

The report said the exact number of girls who have been sujected to cross-border or transnational female genital mutilation remained unknown due to its clandestine nature.

According to UNICEF, more than 230 million girls and women have been subjected to genital mutilation, including more than 144 million in Africa and more than 80 million in Asia.

The U.N. has estimated that 4.3 million girls are at risk of being subjected to the practice, which does not provide any health benefits and can cause serious health issues such as chronic infections.

Gambia - where government figures show that 73% of women aged between 15 and 49 have undergone genital mutilatio - could be the first country to lift a ban.

"There's no justification for gender based violence against women and girls anywhere, neither on the ground of culture nor on the ground of tradition," said Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Female genital mutilation is banned in more than 70 countries, of which at least 35 are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Angus MacSwan)