UNICEF urges states to end scourge • Monarch, clerics differ on practice
From Clement Adeyi, Osogbo
female Genital Mutilation (FGM), otherwise known as female circumcision is reputed as one of the age-long cultural practices in Africa. It has become a part of the culture, custom and tradition of the people.
FGM originated from ancient Egyptians and practised across 28 countries in Africa as well as a handful of countries in the Middle East. Practitioners engage in it with a reckless abandon without recourse to the dangers faced by the victims.
A layman definition of FGM is that it is the cutting of the tip of the clitoris of a girl or woman for no specific medical reason. But the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), defines it officially as all surgical procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitals or other injuries on the female genitals for cultural and non-therapeutic purposes.
The traditional societies that engage in the practice believe it will subdue women’s sexual libido with a view to check sexual rascality and promiscuity. But the practice has not only brought untold pains to the victims, it has also subjected them to health risks and problems.
Research has shown that the major health crises associated with FGM include Vesico-Vagina Fistula (VVF), Recto-Vagina Fistula (RVF), urinary incontinence, infection, bleeding and mortality, tetanus, sepsis urine retention as well as sexual dysfunction. Other effects of FGM include painful sex, frigidity, loss of urge for sex and divorce.
According to UNICEF report in 2015, Nigeria has the highest number of FGM cases across the globe with about a quarter of the world’s estimated 115-130 million circumcised women. Five states rank highest among those still practising FGM. They are Ebonyi, Ekiti, Imo, Oyo and Osun. Out of these states, Osun State is said to have the highest percentage.
Following the health risks involved and the common belief that it is crude and anti-human, series of campaigns have been put in place to eradicate it.
At this year’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation marked across the globe on February 6, 2017, UNICEF called for collective action to end the menace. It called on governments at all levels, civil society organisations, as well as traditional and religious leaders to unite and end the scourge in Nigeria.
UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Mohamed Fall, who condemned the practice, pointed out that there was no benefit for the FGM for non-medical reasons. According to him, it is a practice that can cause severe physical and psychological harm to the victims. He said that it is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
He also disclosed that five states in Nigeria had the highest rates of FGM above 60 per cent, adding that Osun and Ebonyi states are leading with 77 and 74 per cent respectively according to the 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey. The other states, he said, are Ekiti, 72 per cent; Imo, 68 per cent; and Oyo, 66 per cent.
Fall also said that UNICEF had been working with the federal and state governments as well as stakeholders, especially in the states where the practice is most prevalent, by creating awareness at all levels and working with communities to convince practitioners and community members to ensure the eradication of the savage culture:
According to him, the wives of the state governors of Imo and Oyo are working on draft bills that would prohibit the practice of FGM as well as any custom or tradition that promotes it. When the bills are passed, Imo and Oyo will join the other most affected southern states – Osun, Ebonyi and Ekiti – that had already passed laws against the practice.
“We applaud the progress that has been made in Nigeria, but there is still a long way to go. Even though this practice has persisted for over a thousand years, our evidence tells us that with collective action, it can end in one generation, Fall added.
“It violates a woman’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and even – in some cases – the right to life.”
UNICEF South West Communication Officer, Mrs Blessing Ejiofor, told Daily Sun that the body had called on stakeholders to use the occasion of the World International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation to increase the ongoing advocacy against the scourge with a view to eradicating the practice.
Some citizens expressed their views on the practice. An Osogbo-based circumciser, Pa Isola Alabelewe, who said he abandoned the practice since the Osun State Government came up with a law to prohibit it said: “What else do you want me to say when government said we should not do it again? Don’t you know that government is powerful? I don’t want government’s trouble please.
“I have stopped circumcising female children since government came up with a law against it. So, I do not have anything to say about it,” Pa Adetunji Olalekan, another circumciser said.
Another practitioner, Pa Kareemu Adebayo, said that majority of his colleagues in the state had dumped the practice. He, however, said that those without any other means of livelihood might still be engaging in it secretly:
“We inherited the job from our parents. I performed circumcision for several years, but I stopped it since the wife of our governor, Aregbesola said we should not do it again. I was able to dump it because I have another job. I am an artisan. Those who do not have any other job will find it difficult to stop the practice.”
Another circumciser, Alhaji Fatai Alabetutu, explained that many of the circumcisers could not desist from the act because it is their only means of livelihood:
“Government has not given them any alternative means of income that they can use to feed their families when they dump the practice, and they would not want to end up as beggars.”
A gynaecologist, Dr Lekan Awolola, who spoke on the health implications of FGM said victims could experience continuous bleeding during labour, suffer from acute urinary infection, injury on the adjacent structure of the genital, among others dangers.
The head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Lagos Liaison Office, Dr Omolaso Omosehin, said Osun State still has the highest number of circumcised females in Nigeria, with over 76.3 per cent.
An UNFPA gender analyst, Mrs. Damilola Obinna, said the statistics was arrived at after a survey by UNICEF in 2015.
Chairman, Osun State House of Assembly Committee on Health, Adeleke Ogunsola, warned perpetrators to desist from the act or face the full wrath of the law.
Brandishing copies of the law that prohibits the practice, he warned that after the ongoing campaign and widespread awareness in all the nooks and crannies of the state, violators would be prosecuted to serve as deterrent to others.
However, the Permanent Secretary in the Osun State Ministry of Health, Dr Akinyinka Esho, enthused that there had been an improvement in the efforts at eradicating FGM in the state since 2015 after the UNFPA data was released. He said one of the approaches used to eradicate the practice was the sensitisation of stakeholders, including the circumcisers.
During a campaign, tagged “Stop Female Genital Mutilation,” held in Osogbo, traditional rulers and community leaders openly declared their resolve to desist from the practice and promised to take the campaign to their various domains.
The coordinator of a group championing the war against FGM in the state, Mrs. Aduke Obelawo, said the practice had declined in the state owing to consistent advocacy in various communities:
“Let those who are aware inform others that there is zero tolerance for female circumcision in Osun State. We shall continue to intensify the campaign. Those that are still practising it must desist or else, they will be prosecuted when apprehended.”
The Olufon of Ifon, Oba Almaruf Magbagbeola said: “Those who claim that a woman would be promiscuous if she is not circumcised are not saying the truth because such assertion has no basis in our culture and tradition. Any woman that wants to be promiscuous would be, regardless of whether she was circumcised or not. “What about those circumcised that are still promiscuous?
A leader of the Islamic Movement in Osun State, Malam Isiaq Muhammadu Jamiu, said Islam doctrine was neutral on the issue of female circumcision: “Islam does not prohibit circumcision of female children, but it mandates the circumcision of male children. Refusal to circumcise a female child cannot attract any punishment from Allah.
“Also, if any parent decides to circumcise his child, he has not done anything wrong. However, it must be done by an expert. One of the Hadiths of Prophet Muhammed cautions anyone who wishes to circumcise his or her daughter to get an expert so that the genital would be cut properly. Also, circumcision should not be criminalized.”
Bishop Seun Adeoye of the Sufficient Grace and Truth Ministry, Rehoboth Arena, Okinni, opined that no Christian doctrine was in support of the practice, adding that it did not have any scriptural backing.
“I have never read anywhere in the Bible where Christians are told to circumcise their female children. Therefore, it is anti-God and unacceptable. It is man’s inhumanity to womanhood.”