UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on Thursday urging countries to ban female genital mutilation, calling it an "irreparable, irreversible abuse" that threatens about three million girls annually.
The resolution, which is not legally binding, asks the 193 U.N. members to "take all necessary measures, including enacting and enforcing legislation to prohibit female genital mutilations and to protect women and girls from this form of violence."
The World Health Organization estimates that about 140 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation. Campaigners liken the psychological effects of female genital mutilation to those of rape.
Female genital mutilation - the partial or total removal of external female genitalia - is prevalent in 28 African countries and parts of the Middle East and Asia, notably Yemen, Iraqi Kurdistan and Indonesia.
It is carried out for cultural, religious and social reasons and is also known as female circumcision.
Female genital mutilation is also found in industrialized countries among some immigrant populations. Countries where the practice is near universal include Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Mali and Guinea.
The resolution, which was adopted by consensus, also expressed concern about "evidence of an increase in the incidence of female genital mutilations being carried out by medical personnel in all regions in which they are practiced."
"This practice, justified on false pretenses by supposed cultural and religious tenets, remains a taboo subject, misunderstood and misinterpreted in several societies," Burkina Faso's U.N. Ambassador Der Kogda told the General Assembly. Burkina Faso has led the move to try and stamp out the practice.
"We need to break the silence that has surrounded FGM (female genital mutilation) ... and move towards its elimination," Kogda said.
Some practitioners believe female genital mutilation will prevent sex before marriage and promiscuity afterwards; others say it is part of preparing a girl for womanhood and is hygienic. Opponents say it can also cause bleeding, shock, cysts and infertility, as well as severe psychological effects.
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Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by David Brunnstrom