Campaigners against female circumcision have scored a major victory with the approval by a key UN committee of a resolution calling for a global ban on female genital mutilation.
The resolution, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly's human rights committee, calls the practice harmful and a serious threat to the psychological, sexual and reproductive health of women and girls.
It calls on the UN's 193 member states to condemn the practice, known as FGM, and launch education campaigns for girls and boys, women and men, to eliminate it.
It also urges all countries to enact and enforce legislation to prohibit FGM, to protect women and girls "from this form of violence", and to end impunity for violators.
With 110 sponsors, the resolution is virtually certain to be approved by the full General Assembly, which is expected to take it up in the second half of December.
Although not legally binding, assembly resolutions reflect international concerns and carry moral and political weight.
Italy's UN Ambassador Cesare Maria Ragaglini, who has been working with African partners for a ban, called the resolution "a breakthrough in the international campaign to end the harmful practice of FGM.
"I think that together we can change the fate of many young girls around the world, and today this goal appears closer than ever," he said.
"The resolution, in condemning the practice and promoting social and educational programs, is ... the beginning of a new journey."
The centuries-old practice stems from beliefs that FGM controls women's sexuality, enhances fertility, or is required by religious belief - although both Muslim and Christian leaders have spoken out against it.