(CNN) -- The Ugandan parliament unanimously passed a bill banning female genital mutilation, a traditional rite that has sparked an international outcry and is practiced in some African and Asian communities.
The practice, which involves cutting off a girl's clitoris, is also called female circumcision. In some communities in eastern Uganda, it is practiced in girls up to age 15.
Convicted offenders face 10 years in prison, but if the girl dies during the act, those involved will get a life sentence, according to officials in the east African country.
"A majority of Ugandans felt it is a disgusting act, but you have to remember that this is a cultural belief that has been practiced for generations," said Fred Opolot, the government spokesman. "That's what took the bill so long to pass."
Human rights activists have decried the practice, which they say poses major health risks for girls and may lead to death. It also causes complications during sex and child birth, activists say.
"The experience has also been related to a range of psychological and psychosomatic disorders," the United Nations Population Fund says.
About three million women and girls face female genital mutilation globally every year, and nearly 140 million have already undergone the practice, according to the United Nations.
Most of the victims live in Africa and Asia, including among some populations in India, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Alice Alaso, a member of parliament in Uganda, said the bill was only a first step.
"We might later amend it to include compensations for women subjected to the practice," Alaso said. "Our goal is to protect these girls, and we will continue to do so."
Female genital mutilation has been banned in some African countries, but it is still practiced in some remote, close-knit communities.
Some communities are also shifting toward a less invasive procedure called the 'lesser cut," according to the United Nations.
"This may be indicative of shifts in awareness .... however, it is still an unacceptable practice," it added.
Get the whole story at CNN