British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday called for a worldwide ban on female genital mutilation and child marriage as he launched the first UN-backed "Girl Summit" on issues that affect millions around the globe.
Cameron announced that parents in Britain would face prosecution for failing to prevent their daughters from being subjected to FGM, while setting out steps to tackle both practices in developing nations.
"Our aim is to outlaw FGM and child marriage everywhere for everyone," Cameron told the summit in London, to applause from an audience of experts and campaigners from around the world.
FGM, which affects tens of millions of women, particularly in the Horn of Africa, ranges from removal of the clitoris to the mutilation and removal of other female genitalia. It can leave girls at risk of prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death.
Cameron acknowledged that ending FGM and child marriage was no easy task, saying they ranked alongside the global health threats of polio and tuberculosis in terms of the commitment needed to tackle them.
The summit, which is co-hosted by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), will produce an "international charter" calling for the eradication of FGM and child marriage within a generation.
The summit will also launch new programmes to prevent child and forced marriage in 12 developing nations.
Speakers at the event included Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who recovered from being shot in the head by the Taliban and is now a campaigner for girls' education.
"We should have the right to change traditions and we should make the changes. We ask that there be no more FGM or child marriage," Malala told the summit. "We should not be followers of traditions that go against human rights... we are human beings and we make traditions."
More than 130 million girls and women have experienced some form of FGM in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is most common, it said.
More than 700 million women worldwide were married as children, UNICEF added.