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Feb 05, 2016 08:35 AM EST

Genital mutilation on the increase, says U.N. report

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A U.N. study has found that more than 200 million girls and women globally have suffered genital mutilation, far higher than earlier estimated, Reuters reported.

The new global figure includes nearly 70 million more girls and women than UNICEF estimated in 2014.

"If current trends continue the number of girls and women subjected to FGM will increase significantly over the next 15 years," the U.N. children's agency UNICEF said on the eve of International Day for Zero Tolerance of FGM.

The ancient ritual usually involves the partial or total removal of a girl's external genitalia.

The study highlighted the need to step up the efforts to eradicate the practice, the United Nations said on Friday.

The UNICEF data covers 30 countries from around the world. However, half of girls and women who have suffered mutilation live in just three countries of the world; Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia.

"Female genital mutilation differs across regions and cultures, with some forms involving life-threatening health risks," said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta.

"In every case FGM violates the rights of girls and women. We must all accelerate efforts - governments, health professionals, community leaders, parents and families - to eliminate the practice."

The country with the highest rate of female genital mutilation (FGM) is Somalia where figures show 98 percent of girls and women aged between 15 and 49 have been mutilated.

Guinea, Djibouti and Sierra Leone also have very high rates.

The report does not include data from all countries where FGM has been reported. The countries that were not included were India, Colombia, Malaysia, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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