Bissau - Muslim leaders in Guinea-Bissau on Friday vowed to help eradicate female genital mutilation, which has affected at least 320 000 women and young girls in the west African country.

“Female circumcision is an ancestral practice... which exists in many countries around the world,” said the group of preachers and scholars in a document entitled the “Bissau declaration”.

“But it is not enshrined in the Koran nor allowed by the Hadith,” Prophet Mohammed's teachings which are a key source of jurisprudence, the declaration said.

“We, imams and ulemas of Guinea-Bissau, pledge to work for the total eradication of this practice which harms women's health in our country,” it read.

The declaration was the outcome of a two-day conference organised by the nation's main Islamic body, the United Nations and two rights groups from Guinea-Bissau and Germany.

Abubacar Djalo, an imam and spokesman for Guinea-Bissau's Muslim clerics, said the declaration's commitment would, among other things, result in increased FGM awareness through sermons in mosques.

According to a health ministry report released during the conference, at least 320,000 women and young girls have undergone female genital mutilation in the nation of 1.7 million.

It said the practice was most widespread among Muslim communities such as the Mandinka, Fula and Biafada.

The Bissau-Guinean parliament passed a law in Junce 2011 banning FGM and making it a crime punishable by up to five years imprisonment. - Sapa-AFP