Eritrea, a small East African nation and very poor, has banned the life-threatening practice of female circumcision, the country's information ministry has said.
Anybody involved in female genital mutilation (FGM) would be punished with a fine and imprisonment, it said.
The move follows a campaign against the practice by the National Union of Eritrean Women, which says more than 90% of Eritrean women are circumcised.
'Female circumcision is a procedure that seriously endangers the health of women, causes them considerable pain and suffering besides threatening their lives,' the government proclamation said.
'Whosoever requests, incites or promotes female circumcision by providing tools or any other means and whosoever, knowing that female circumcision is to take place or has taken place, fails without good cause, to warn or inform the proper authorities promptly, shall be punishable with a fine and imprisonment,' it continued.
The ban came into force on 31 March, the information ministry said.
FGM is outlawed in a number of African countries, but laws are rarely enforced.
In total it is estimated that two million a year are subjected to genital mutilation.
There are three main types of circumcision:
· The removal of the tip of the clitoris;
· Total removal of the clitoris and surrounding labia;
· The removal of the clitoris and labia and the sewing up of the vagina, leaving only a small opening for urine and menstrual blood - a process known as infibulation.
So drastic is the mutilation involved in the latter operation that young brides have to be cut open to allow penetration on their wedding night and are customarily sewn up afterwards.
The aim of the process is to ensure the woman is faithful to her future husband. Some communities consider girls ineligible for marriage if they have not been circumcised.
Girls as young as three undergo the process, but the age at which the operation is performed vary according to country and culture.
Health workers say that the operation is often carried out in unsanitary conditions.
Razor blades, scissors, kitchen knives and even pieces of glass are used, often on more than one girl, which increases the risk of infection.
Anesthesia is rarely used.
Some girls die as a result of hemorrhaging, septicemia and shock.
It can also lead to long-term urinary and reproductive problems.
However, girls who have not been circumcised are considered 'unclean' in many cultures, and can be treated as harlots by other women. Many men believe the folklore which says they will die if their penis touches a clitoris.
Due to health campaigns, female circumcision has been falling in some countries in the last decade. In Kenya, a 1991 survey found that 78% of teenagers had been circumcised, compared to 100% of women over 50. In Sudan, the practice dropped by 10% between 1981 and 1990.
Several governments have introduced legislation to ensure the process is only carried out in hospitals by trained doctors.
Other countries such as Egypt have banned the operation altogether.