The appeal was made in response to a report by the U.N. Children's Fund that found more than 130 million girls and women have been subject to female genital mutilation in 29 African and Middle Eastern countries, and more than 700 million women were married as children, a third of whom before they were 15.
"We can't let the staggering numbers numb us -- they must compel us to act," urges UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
The solution, Lake believes, is local.
"While these are problems of the global scale, the solutions must be local, driven by communities, families and girls themselves to change mindsets and break the cycles that perpetuate FGM/C and child marriage."
Britain is one such country attempting to curb the practice of FGM. At the Girl Summit, co-hosted by the British government and UNICEF on Tuesday, Prime Minister David Cameron announced a series of efforts to deter FGM in Britain.
The prime minister's office outlined the initiatives on its website:
-- A £1.4 million ($2.39 million) FGM Prevention Programme, launched in partnership with NHS England to help care for survivors and safeguard those at risk;
-- New police guidance from the College of Policing and an inspection programme by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) that will look at how the police handle cases of FGM;
-- A consultation on proposals to introduce new civil orders designed to protect girls identified as being at risk of FGM;
-- New legislation that will mean parents can be prosecuted if they fail to prevent their daughter being cut;
-- New legislation to grant victims of FGM lifelong anonymity from the time an allegation is made;
-- A new specialist FGM service which will include social services, to proactively identify and respond to FGM; this will be supported by an ongoing package of work led by the Chief Social Worker Isabelle Trowler;
-- New programmes to prevent child and forced marriage in 12 developing countries;
-- An international charter calling for the eradication of these practices within a generation.
The message, Lake says, is this: "Girls are not property; they have the right to determine their destiny. When they do so, everyone benefits."