The Pan African Parliament (PAP), the legislative organ of the African Union, on Friday commenced a two-day meeting with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to find a way to end female genital mutilation and child marriages.

Roger Dang, PAP President, said during the opening of the meeting in Johannesburg, said all members are in support of the move to end female genital mutilation and child marriages.

"PAP is determined to help and be part of stakeholders to come up with solutions to this practice.

"This is in line with the mandate of PAP to defend and promote gender balance and people living with disability," he said.

"It's the common practices in some countries to partially or totally remove parts of the female genitalia for cultural or non-medical reasons.

"In some African countries, children are forced to get married at an early age at 15 or even earlier,’’ he said.

The President highlighted that the early female genital mutilation exposes girls to diseases like sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

"It also affects their health and education.

Dang said women should be given an opportunity to show their skills, quality and their rights must not be violated with these practices.

He challenged African governments to put into place policies and laws that prohibit female genital mutilation and early child marriages.

"We want governments to put in place strong instruments and treaties that guarantee people a better life.

"States should also come up with sustainable solutions to these practices which are against the fundamental women's right to life, health and education," he said.

Justine Coulson, UNFPA Deputy Regional Director for East and South Africa, said that it has become very important for the parliamentarians to take the message to the grassroots to help fight the practices.

"We want to influence governments to change legislation and national programmes that end female genital mutilation and child marriages.

"Parliamentarians are close to the communities, so we want this message to go beyond the capital city, to religious, community leaders and parents. We want strong advocacy to the family level," she said.

Coulson said they have trained 100, 000 health care workers on how to assist the victims of female genital mutilation.

Over 20,000 religious and traditional leaders have signed a pledge not to practice female genital mutilation.

She said the program has also reached 12,000 community members.

At the two-day meeting, participants are expected to develop an action plan to strengthen PAP and UNFPA partnership to eliminate female genital mutilation and girls' early marriages.

According to UNFPA, 100 to 140 million girls and women are victims of female genital mutilation, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and Arab states.

Countries like Kenya and Gambia now have a legislation outlawing the practice.