Cairo: Egypt has launched a five-year plan to reduce girls’ circumcision, better known as female genital mutilation (FGM). The five-year nationwide plan seeks to curb the centuries-old practice through creating a “propitious socio-political and cultural atmosphere” against it, the Health Ministry said on Friday.

The practice, thought to have been observed in Egypt for thousands of years, involves the removal of the entire clitoris.

Although criminalised in Egypt since 2008, FGM is believed to be still rife mainly in rural and underprivileged areas.

“The implementation of the new plan is aimed at bringing about a cultural change supporting rights of children and women, developing information systems and follow-up on programmes for family empowerment and FGM combat,” the ministry added in a statement.

In recent months, anti-FGM advertisements have been aired on local TV stations in Egypt warning against the physical and psychological harm resulting from the practice.

Authorities say that the stepped up efforts against the tradition have paid off. According to figures released by the Health Ministry, the practice among Egyptian women aged up to 49 dropped to 92 per cent in 2014 against 96 per cent nine years earlier.

The figures show a further decline among girls. Around 61 per cent of the nation’s girls aged between 15 to 17 underwent FGM in 2014 compared to 74 per cent in 2008.

“This decline reflects the impact of social development among the new generation as a direct result of increased rates of education and national campaigns carried out by the government, the media, civil society and law enforcement agencies against female circumcision,” the ministry explained.

It cited statistics that 82 per cent of FGM operations in Egypt had been performed by medical practitioners.

Under Egyptian law, FMG is a criminal offence punishable by jail terms ranging from three months to two years.

Earlier this year, an Egyptian court sentenced a doctor to two years in prison after a 13-year-old girl died of complications resulting from FGM surgery he had performed on her.

In the new anti-FGM plan, health authorities said they would seek cooperation with Muslim and Christian clergymen.

In 2007, Egypt’s leading Islamic official, the grand mufti, issued a fatwa stating that FGM is forbidden in Islam.