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    Female genital mutilation down in Somalia

    NAIROBI — Attitudes in Somalia toward a practice that critics decry as torture may be changing, as new data released by the UN children’s agency on Tuesday showed that female genital mutilation among children in northern Somalia is declining.

    The survey released by UNICEF and the governments of Somaliland and Puntland found that 25 percent of girls from the ages of 1 to 14 years old have undergone the practice, compared with 99 percent of women in those regions.

    UNICEF has been working with community and religious leaders in northern Somalia to try to change attitudes toward female genital mutilation. Sheema Sen Gupta, the chief of child protection for UNICEF in Somalia, said that 28 communities in Somaliland have declared an end to the practice, and UNICEF hopes to have that number up to 60 by the end of this year.

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    ‘‘If you ask the average Somali woman why they practice FGM now, they will tell you it’s for religious reasons. But it’s not religious, because FGM predates Islam,’’ Gupta said.

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    In December the UN General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution calling for a global ban on female genital mutilation, a centuries-old practice stemming from the belief that circumcising girls controls women’s sexuality and enhances fertility.

    Associated Press