By Flora Bossey
10 years after domesticating the law prohibiting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Circumcisers are yet to abolish the illicit health practice in Edo State. Sadly, the subject has gained international attention among state and non- state actors over the years.
Earlier definitions of FGM misplaces the term as female circumcision and moral obligation. But, the World Health Organisation WHO, United Nations Children Education Fund UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund UNFPA, defined FGM in a joint statement as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitals or other injury to the female genital organs – whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons”.
The practice of FGM is deeply rooted in gender inequality, a violation of the fundamental human right of the girl child. It is carried out by traditional Circumcisers who attempt to control women’s sexuality and ideas about purity, modesty and chastity.
In May 2015, the Federal Government of Nigeria passed a law banning Female Genital Mutilation and other harmful practices. However, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act applies only to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. As at 2018, only 13 States have domesticated the Act. They include Lagos, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Bayelsa, Ogun, Delta, Ebonyi, Oyo, Imo, Edo, Cross-River and River States.
The erroneous impression is that with all the activities of Stakeholders to eliminate the practice, which is shrouded in secrecy, there would be a reduction in the prevalence rate.
82 per cent.of women aged 15-49 who have undergone FGM were cut before the age of 5 while the National prevalence rate has been put at over 20 million women which is about 24.8 per cent constituting a total of 10 per cent of the global total put at 200 million women and girls.
The fact that FGM is carried out on children often fuels the culture of silence among young girls who do not even realize they were cut.
Edo State is among the States that have domesticated the Law against Female Genital Mutilation. Despite the feat, FGM is still being carried out.
A group of men (15 of them) who called into a live programme anchored by the author of this report, confirm that they are under pressure to present their girl children for FGM.
Other callers who are married to women who have experienced FGM, confirm that their wives have experienced some of the health complications associated with FGM.
A Nigerian who simply identified herself Blessing during an audience participatory programme on television in Benin City, Edo State.Capital, revealed that her marriage ended when she insisted on not presenting her first and only child, and daughter to her mother-in-law for FGM.
She maintained that she was asked to vacate her matrimonial home as a result of her refusal to allow her daughter to be cut.
Blessing stated that her personal experience about FGM, has made her to resolve never to allow her girl child to undergo FGM, which medical experts say has Zero health benefit and causes several health challenges.
Despite the huge efforts by the Nigeria Government, Donor Agencies, NGOs and anti-FGM campaigners, to raise awareness and stop the practice of FGM and the existence of a law against it, the practice is still in existence. This may be as a result of the fact that it is carried out early in the life of the girl child who is incapable of speaking for herself.
Other reasons adduced by experts as responsible for the continuous practice of FGM in Nigeria include deeply held traditional and cultural beliefs and myths, associated with FGM can be used to curb insatiable sexual desire in women and girls.
In Enugu State, FGM is usually performed in line with the patriarchal system which have been adopted in most Communities in the State. The practice ensures male dominance over women. It has been widely speculated as a way in which the male folks subject and impose themselves on women.
In addition, harmful traditional practices like FGM is also often considered as a cultural obligation such as rite of passage into womanhood, Female Genital Cutting is done to elevate the woman and in some cases pregnant women, into a socially acceptable class in society.
In some Communities where culture has evolved over the years, a class struggle allows the traditional Circumcisers to carry out certain rituals and the required ceremony, as alternative to cutting of the female genitals.
In Edo North Senatorial District of Edo State, only the pubic hair is shaved as a symbolic ritual of the rite of passage for pregnant women into womanhood. These practice which denies women their inalienable right to enjoy sex and poses other health challenges to them. FGM practice thrives due to low level of enforcement of the law and other legal frameworks which protects the right of the girl child.
In a telephone interview, Police Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Police Force, Edo State Command, DSP Chidi Nwabuzor said he is not aware of any reported case of violation of the law relating to FGM.
The culture of secrecy which tends to deny the girl child the right to speak out, is a lack of structures to provide support to victims who are experiencing the effects of FGM.
Comrade Cynthia Buluebiere Bright, a Civil society advocate for the eradication of FGM said there should be a specialized Clinic where Couples who are having sexual challenges as a result of the effects of Genital Mutilation can go to see help through counselling and guidance.
On her part Hon Justice Nogi Imoukhuede in a paper titled Female Genital Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): A Crime in Edo State, described FGM as a cultural practice that has been with the Edo People from time immemorial.
She argued that: “The cultural belief is that FGM prevents sexual promiscuity and promotes chastity in women. We now know that this myth is a harmful belief that militates against women’s health in Nigeria”.