Sudan outlawed female genital mutilation last week, drawing praise from the international community.
The representative in Sudan for the UN’s body for children’s issues UNICEF said the practice, which has been relatively common in segments of Sudanese society, hurts young girls and must end.
“This practice is not only a violation of every girl child’s rights, it is harmful and has serious consequences for a girl’s physical and mental health,” Abdullah Fadil said in a statement. “This is why governments and communities alike must take immediate action to put an end to this practice.”
Female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, is the physical removal of external female genitalia. It is typically done to girls before puberty and occurs in parts of Africa and the Middle East. The practice can lead to several health complications, including chronic pain, difficulty urinating and menstruating, childbirth issues and deadly bleeding, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
There are a range of societal motivations for practicing female circumcision, including a desire to control women’s sexual behavior, according to WHO.
The practice is relatively high in Sudan. In 2014, the rate of women who underwent female circumcision was 86.6%, according to the UNICEF statement. The law alone may not enough to stop female genital mutilation in the country. Fadil said there needs to be enforcement and awareness of the law in communities for the practice to actually end.
The Sudanese government made the practice illegal April 22. Anyone who performs the procedure can now receive up to three years in prison, according to Reuters.
There has been some movement against female circumcision in Sudan in recent years. UNICEF said more parents were opting out of the practice in 2013. The Sudanese outlet Dabanga reported that some in the legal community demanded its criminalization in 2015.