Written by Victoria Augustine
As we observe the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) today, the 6th of February 2024, with the theme: “Her voice. Her future,” it is crucial to reflect on the journey towards the eradication of FGM in Nigeria and reaffirm our commitment to combating it. Female Genital Mutilation(FGM), a deep-rooted cultural practice with harmful effects on women and girls, undermines their health, rights, and overall well-being. This article aims to shed light on the prevalence and impact of FGM in Nigeria and chart a strategic path towards its elimination.
The Prevalence of FGM in Nigeria
Nigeria, with its diverse ethnic and cultural landscape, exhibits varying degrees of FGM prevalence. The practice, deeply rooted in tradition, is perpetuated by socio-cultural, economic, and sometimes religious factors. Female genital mutilation (FGM) remains widespread in Nigeria. With an estimated 19.9 million survivors, Nigeria accounts for the third-highest number of women and girls who have undergone FGM worldwide.
While the national prevalence of FGM among women in Nigeria aged 15-49 dropped from 25 percent in 2013 to 20 percent in 2018, prevalence among girls aged 0-14 increased from 16.9 percent to 19.2 percent in the same period, according to Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) figures.
According to UNICEF(2022), An estimated 86 percent of females were cut before the age of 5, while 8 percent were cut between ages 5 and 14. While recent data suggests a decline in FGM rates among women aged 15–49, from 24.8% in 2013 to 19.5% in 2018, there is a disturbing rise in its occurrence among girls aged 0–14. This discrepancy highlights the need for targeted interventions and continued vigilance.
Impact on Individuals and Communities
The implications of FGM are extensive, affecting individuals at multiple levels:
- Health Risks: FGM poses severe health risks, including infections, increased childbirth complications, and prolonged labor, with dreadful consequences for maternal and child health.
- Psychological Trauma: The practice often results in long-term psychological trauma, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Violation of Rights: FGM is a violation of the rights of women and girls, impeding their ability to make autonomous decisions about their bodies.
- Perpetuation of Gender Inequality: FGM reinforces gender inequality, limiting women’s opportunities for education, participation in public life, and the right to a pleasurable sex life.
Moving Together Towards Change
Section 6 of the VAPP Act provides for a set of punishments for FGM, which include;
- Anybody who performs or engages another to perform FGM on any person is liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding four years or to a fine not exceeding N200,000 or both.
- Anybody who attempts, aids, abets, or incites another to carry out FGM is liable to a term not exceeding two years imprisonment or to a fine not exceeding N100,000 or both.
The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 (also known as the VAPP Act) is a law enacted by the National Assembly (Nigeria) and was passed to become law by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in 2015. The goal of this Act is to “eliminate violence in private and public life; prohibit all forms of violence against persons and to provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders; and for related matters.” The VAPP Act was enacted as a result of many gender-based violence and human rights abuse happening in Nigeria, including rape, maiming of spouse, forceful ejection from home, forced isolation, acid bath, and killing.
Although Section 6 of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP Act) criminalizes FGM, every year, lots of girls who may have diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are being mutilated, and there is no record of any arrest done or redress mechanism being developed. In working towards the eradication of FGM in Nigeria, a multifaceted approach that addresses its cultural, economic, and social bedrock is essential. The way forward includes:
- Strengthening Legal Frameworks: While Nigeria has the VAPP ACT of 2015, The Child Rights Act of 2003, and The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is the supreme law of the land, and they all speak against any form of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, enforcement remains weak. Strengthening legal mechanisms and ensuring the stringent implementation of existing laws are crucial steps that should be taken.
- Community Engagement and Education: Changing deeply rooted cultural practices requires engaging communities continuously through education and dialogue. Focusing efforts on raising awareness about the harmful effects of FGM.
- Healthcare Provider Training: Training healthcare providers, especially in rural areas, to manage FGM complications and advocate against the practice within their communities is pivotal.
- Reporting Channel: Creating a reporting channel where perpetrators of FGM can be reported(anonymously) directly to bodies like the Ministry of Women’s Affairs will also play a vital role, as most times, the whistleblower’s identity is at risk.
As we commemorate the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, let us renew our commitment to eradicating this harmful practice. The journey toward the elimination of FGM in Nigeria requires collective action, persistence, and a deep understanding of the cultural context within which FGM exists. By adopting a comprehensive, community-centered approach and leveraging the strengths of collective efforts, we can protect the rights and well-being of women and girls, paving the way for a future free of FGM.
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