The tide is turning:
Eritrea has banned female circumcision, a life-threatening tradition that aid groups say is inflicted upon about 90 percent of the country's women.
A government statement issued on Thursday said anyone who requested, took part in or promoted the practice now faces a fine of several hundred dollars or up to 10 years in jail.
"Female circumcision is a procedure that seriously endangers the health of women, causes them considerable pain and suffering besides threatening their lives," the statement said.
"Whosoever requests, incites or promotes female circumcision ... shall be [punished] with a fine and imprisonment."
The ban took effect on March 31, it said.
Female circumcision, also called female genital mutilation (FGM), is widespread in the Horn of Africa and involves cutting off the clitoris and other parts of the female genitalia, sometimes all of it.
There are degrees of severity and many practitioners are untrained and use crude instruments.
"FGM is a deep-rooted culture and it needs a persistent continuous effort (to halt it)," Luul Ghebreab, president of National Union of Eritrean Women, told Reuters.
"We do not believe [this ban] will automatically eradicate circumcision, but surely it will play a role."
Up to 140 million women and girls worldwide are estimated to have undergone female circumcision, and U.N. agencies estimate that another three million a year are subjected to it.
A health survey by Eritrea's government in 2002 found 62 percent of circumcised women in the Red Sea state had the procedure done before their first birthday. Less than one percent had been performed by trained health professionals.
The procedure is severely painful and dangerous -- girls are mutilated with crude, unsanitary instruments and without anesthesia -- it can cause painful urination; shock, hermorrhage and difficulty giving birth; can often block menstrual blood, causing infection and death; takes away feeling and makes intercourse painful.