Picture: Unicef/AP/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Sierra Leone - A 10-year-old girl in Sierra Leone has died after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) leading to outrage and calls for the practice to be banned in the west African country.

The girl was cut during an initiation at a secret women's society in northern Sierra Leone, Ghana Web reported on Wednesday.

Another 66 girls were also reported to have been circumcised during the same ceremony. Following the girl’s death a woman was arrested as investigations by the police continued.

The practice is common in Sierra Leone with the UN reporting that 9 out of 10 women are circumcised. The cutting has been banned in most African countries with Freetown one of only a handful of countries on the continent that hasn’t banned the practice.

Due to many countries banning FGM there has been a significant decline in the practice across the continent over the past three decades.

According to a British Medical Journal report in November,  the fastest drop has been in east Africa. There, prevalence among girls up to 14 years old dropped from 71.4 percent in 1995 to 8 percent in 2016.

Traditionally, rates have been high in east African nations, such as Somalia, where 98 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been cut, UN figures show.

However, the decline has been "much slower" in west and north Africa but is still significant, said the report's authors, a team of UK and South African researchers led by Ngianga-Bakwin Kandala, professor of biostatistics at Britain's Northumbria University.

In north Africa, the percentage of girls undergoing FGM dropped from 57.7 percent to 14.1 percent between 1990 and 2015, according to the report. In west Africa, the prevalence of the practice fell from 73.6 percent in 1996 to 25.4 percent in 2017.

FGM can cause serious health problems the World Health Organisation (WHO) says, adding that it increases short and long term health risks to women and girls. 

Cutting the nerve endings and sensitive genital tissue causes extreme pain. Proper anaesthesia is rarely used and when used is not always effective.

Excessive bleeding (haemorrhage) occurs if the clitoral artery or other blood vessel is cut during the procedure. Shock can be caused by pain, infection and haemorrhage.

Genital tissue swelling often occurs due to inflammation or local infection. Infections may spread after the use of contaminated instruments and during the healing period.

- African News Agency (ANA); Editing by Naomi Mackay