By Peter Martell AFP - Thursday, April 5 ASMARA (AFP) - Eritrea has banned the painful and risky practice of female circumcision, widely carried out by women in their homes in both Muslim and Christian communities of the Horn of Africa nation. Anyone who requests, incites or promotes female genital mutilation (FGM) will be punished with a fine and imprisonment, said a government statement posted on the Internet late Wednesday. "Female circumcision is a procedure that seriously endangers the health of women, causes them considerable pain and suffering besides threatening their lives," it said. Some two million Sub-Saharan African women are circumcised each year, and around 130 million women, mainly in Africa, have suffered such mutilation, according to the World Health Organisation, which adopted a resolution against the practice in 1993. The Eritrean ban, which came into force on March 31, follows a campaign by the National Union of Eritrean Women, which says that 94 percent of Eritrean women have been circumcised. "This ban is one of the most important issues the union has been working for," said Belainesh Seyoum, NUEW's head of international relations, adding that they had carried out workshops to alert people to the risks of the practice across the country. Circumcision, which is already a health risk because many practitioners lack appropriate medical equipment, can range from the stitching up of young girls' vaginas to the excision of the clitoris. Among the long-term complications are cysts, painful sexual intercourse, urinary incontinence and difficulties with childbirth. Supporters of female circumcision argue that it helps prevent promiscuous behaviour. Women carry out the surgery as part of an initiation rite to adulthood. The UN children's agency UNICEF, which works with the Eritrean authorities to halt FGM, said it welcomed the ban but warned that community-based work must continue. "The proclamation needs to be complemented by a continued strong sensitization of communities leading to a behavior change," UNICEF spokeswoman Sara Johansson told AFP in Asmara. Several African countries have banned female circumcision, including Ghana, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Senegal, but bans do not always halt the practice. Young Eritreans on the streets of Asmara said they hoped the law would help change traditional beliefs. "A lot of work has gone into trying to change attitudes, but people still believe that a girl who has not been circumcised will be wild and promiscuous," said a 23-year-old female student, declining to be named. "Having a punishment will act as a real deterrent." A 20-year-old male doing his military service also welcomed the measure. "It's a good move," he said, also asking to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the subject. "It will still continue, but it will make people think twice, and it provides a reason to resist pressure from the community to do it." Yes! That's a good start! Hopefully other countries will follow suit and ban this barbaric practice.