Last month, Nigeria became the most recent African country to formally ban female genital mutilation, a barbaric practice performed on 150 million girls across the world. The move was cheered around the globe, but the celebration was tinged with some reservation. Realistically, most recognize, a piece of paper issued in parliament isn’t enough to combat a deeply rooted tradition stretching back thousands of years. Indeed, although the law “is a major boost not only for Nigeria’s women, but for the nation as a whole,” Stella Mukasa of the International Center for Research on Women told me, “The question is: Will it make a practical difference?”
In just the last five years, six other countries—Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, and Zambia—have passed legislation banning female genital mutilation. In other words, the practice is now illegal in almost all the countries where the United Nations suspects it occurs. Evidence suggests that anti-mutilation efforts are reducing cutting rates in many corners of the globe. But worldwide, reports of women suffering from the practice are still rampant.
In fact, the United Nations recently estimated that at least 15 million more girls will be mutilated by 2030 worldwide. This figure includes newly discovered cases in remote regions of Iran and Indonesia, as well as in countries in which female genital mutilation is now illegal. Growing evidence of mutilation also exists in the West. A 2015 U.S. Center for Disease Control report noted that half a million girls—513,000—in the United States had either already been cut or were at risk. That number is up from 168,000 in 1997.
And the United Kingdom is rushing through laws this summer to prevent “holiday cutting,” a practice in which tens of thousands of immigrant girls are flown back to their countries of origin to be mutilated. The law would require teachers and health workers to report female genital mutilation, and would empower the police to prevent young girls from traveling to Africa if they believe they will be cut