Delegates from across Africa have gathered in Ethiopia's capital for a conference on female circumcision in Africa.

Representatives from the African Union as well as several United Nations agencies are attending the three-day conference which started Tuesday in Addis Ababa.

The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, which is hosting the conference, says some 120 million women and girls currently suffer the effects of female circumcision, called genital mutilation by its opponents.

The practice, born out of religious and tribal traditions, surgically removes part or all of a female's exterior genitalia. It can cause painful infections and complications during urination, menstruation and childbirth.

In addition, those against the practice say it is demeaning to women and girls and can cause psychological damage.

The conference aims to persuade the African Union to include language condemning female circumcision in its charter on human rights, and to set up a agency to help prevent the practice.

Other objectives include educating parents, young people, community leaders, and officials about the health risks of female circumcision and the laws against it.