Sometimes, girls are taken across national borders to undergo FGM in a country where the law against the practice is either non-existent or less strict. This phenomenon is known as cross-border female genital mutilation. Cross-border FGM is still poorly documented and difficult to identify, in part because of its clandestine nature.  

In order to better understand the phenomenon, a discussion was organised within the Community of Practice in December 2019. 

The issue note focuses on the practice of cross-border FGM, (mainly in African communities) and the measures that contribute to ending it, and those that, conversely, work to propagate it beyond national borders. 


The objective of the discussion was to deepen the understanding of cross-border FGM in different communities and to share experiences, ideas and preventive measures that could help combat the practice in various contexts. 

Three Experts were invited to share their experience and expertise:  

  • Natalie Robi Tingo, anti-FGM activist, founder and director of Msichana Empowerment Kuria, Kenya
  • Joséphine Wouango, anthropologist, lecturer at the University of Liège, Belgium 
  • Felister Gitonga, Harmful Practices Programme Officer at Equality Now, Kenya

CoP members shared their personal knowledge of the phenomenon, sought solutions to combat the practice and discussed the role of laws in the practice of cross-border FGM. 

The discussion was based on three main guiding questions: 

  • Does cross-border FGM exist in your country? Do you have data and evidence on the practice? 
  • How is it possible to eradicate cross-border FGM in our communities? 
  • In your experience, have regional laws had a positive effect on cross-border FGM? 

During the discussion we found that the common frame of thought often leads us to think more in terms of borders and states than in terms of communities. However, cross-border FGM can only be explained by understanding the presence of the same community on both sides of a border, resulting in common trips and an absence of feeling like a “stranger” in the other country. 

Experts highlighted the importance of collaboration, cooperation and harmonization of strategies to combat FGM in countries hosting communities affected by the practice. Indeed, differences in legislation and law enforcement are the main factor that motivates cross-border FGM. The possibility of establishing border controls to identify reasons for travel and detect cases of cross-border FGM was debated during the discussion but resulted in almost unanimous rejection because of the counterproductive nature of such an approach.  

  • 28 Too Many, 2018(a), Somalia: the law and FGM,  Access here
  • 28 Too Many, 2018(b), The Law and FGM: An Overview of 28 African Countries, Access here
  • Africa News, 2018, Kenyan girls smuggled across border for FGM procedure, Access here
  •  All Africa, 2008, West Africa: Cross border FGM the rise, Access here
  • End FGM European Network, FGM in Europe, Access here
  • Gitonga, F. Equality Now, 2019, personal communication
  • GRIGED, 2008, Pratique transfrontalière de l’excision: Etat des lieux etévaluation des actions dans les zones frontalières du Burkina Faso, de la Côted’Ivoire, du Ghana, du Mali et du Niger, Access here
  • Modern Ghana, 2015, FGM Beyond the Borders: Ghanaian crossover to Burkina Faso and Togo to cut their children, Access here
  • Ngianga-Bakwin K., Komba P.N.,2015, Geographic Variation of Female Genital Mutilation and Legal Enforcement in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Case Study of Senegal, Access here
  • Population Council, 1996, Project Evidence to End FGM/C: Research to Help Girls and WomenThrive , Access here
  • Starr News, 2014, Cross-border Female Genital Mutilation rampant in Upper East region. Ghana, Access here
  • The New Humanitarian, 2008, Cross border FGM/C on the rise, Access here
  • Tobi Tingo N., 2019, personal communication
  • Tostan Digital for all, 2014, Cross border meeting between Senegalese and Gambian communities to discuss ending Female genital mutilation, Access here
  • UNFPA Kenya, 2019, 1st Regional Inter-Ministerial Meeting to #EndCrossBorderFGM, Access here
  •  UNFPA-UNICEF, 2018,  Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation: Accelerating Change, Access here
  • UNFPA-UNICEF, 2019,  Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation: Accelerating Change, Access here
     UNICEF, 2018, Child protection/Female Genital Mutilation, Access here
  • UNICEF, 2016, New statistical report on Female Genital Mutilation shows that harmful practice is a global concern, Access here
  •  Women in The World, 2018, FGM prevalence rate in dramatic decline across Africa, Access here
  • World Health Organization, 2016, Female Genital Mutilation, Access here
  • Wouango J., Ostermann  S. and Mwanga D., 2020, When and How does Law Effectively Reduce the Practice of FGM/C, Access here


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