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African Conference Vows End to Female Circumcision - 2003-02-07

Hundreds of female delegates from all across Africa have wrapped up a three-day meeting on female genital mutilation in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with a call to end the still widespread practice.

The delegates declared Thursday, February 6, the first International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation. The first ladies of Nigeria, Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso were among those in attendance.

U.N. officials say two million girls every year are at risk of genital cutting and mutilation, a practice they say has afflicted 100-130 million women. Carol Bellamy, the head of the U.N. agency for children, UNICEF, said the victims are "living proof that the world has failed to protect them."

Female circumcision, a common practice in remote parts of several African and some Middle Eastern countries, is based primarily on traditional and religious beliefs. Those who defend the practice say it enhances male sexual pleasure and female fertility, among other things.

However, the World Health Organization says these arguments have no scientific validity. Studies have shown that female circumcision can cause hemorrhage, infection and other physical ailments and can lead to death.

A number of celebrities have campaigned for years to have the practice banned. These include U.S. Nobel literature laureate Toni Morrison and Somali-born fashion model Waris Dirie, who herself was subjected to the practice as a child.