With the wide spread commendation received across the country by the National Assembly for passing the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill into law, which includes the law criminalising female genital mutilation (FGM) in the country, it is believed that Nigerians are beginning to accept the fact that cultural and religious beliefs must be subject to universal human rights practices.
Despite the optimism that the law will nonetheless save the over 40 million Nigerian women and girls from the numerous health implications occasioned by the savagely cruel practice, what is worrisome is whether this law will be enforced across the country and offenders punished for inflicting bodily harm, psychological trauma and promoting health hazards among Nigerian women in the name of circumcision and other long-aged traditional and cultural practices that are harmful to health.
Of particular concern is the fact that this law is not new to many states in the country which have hitherto signed the law criminalising FGM several years ago, yet the cruelty is still practiced openly, with the supposed enforcers of such law and even the officials of the various state governments looking the other way, because they shouldn't be caught dabbling into cultural and religious practices which are regarded as sensitive at the expense of human dignity.
Since Edo State outlawed the practice in1999, other states including Rivers, Ogun, Osun, Cross River and Bayelsa, among others have also done the same thing, while persons convicted under the law are supposed to be imprisoned for six months or fined a meager sum of N1,000. But available information suggests that enforcing these laws in the various states has been a tall order while the practises continue to gain increased acceptance.
Medical experts as well as advocates of the law criminalising FGM have suggested that the best ways to halt this practice in the country is for government to first of all embark on massive awareness on the health implications of FGM across the country, especially in remote areas, as well as stress the fact that there is a law criminalising offenders, and secondly, that offenders should be punished, while such punishments should be publicized as a deterrent, so that other offenders or intending offenders will know that it is no longer business as usual.
According to the Medical Director, Faith Alive Hospital, Lagos, Dr. Mike Lebimoyo, the cruel practice of cutting the clitoris or in some cases the clitoris plus the labia minora of young females should be discouraged by all and sundry, especially among locals in the communities who are known to be closer to the people.
He said the passing of the bill criminalising the practice in the country by the National Assembly was only the first step in the sequence of strategies in reducing the scourge.
He said: "I learnt the bill has been with the National Assembly for several years, but has now finally been passed. Government should embark on awareness campaigns using community leaders, religious bodies, the mass media, especially television to inform the citizens that the practice has serious health implications."
He said just as priority was being given to malaria and HIV campaigns in the country, that the government, corporate organisations, health bodies and well meaning Nigerians should also give priority to the campaign against FGM as it affects about one quarter of the 170 million Nigerians.
He suggested that various community leaders, religious bodies, local government officials and even street heads be trained on why the practice must be discouraged. He believes this would help in reaching the community members more, rather than fighting from the top.
"One major problem with the Nigerian system is that most of our laws are not enforced. You don't expect someone who is already used to a particular lifestyle or life pattern to just quit, that is why enforcement of laws are necessary. So while carrying out campaigns on the reasons why people should stop offending practices, measures should also be put on ground to punish defaulters.
"That was how the law prohibiting public smoking in Lagos was enacted, but every day we see people smoking in public places. The laws are just there on paper because defaulters are not been punished," he explained.
While stressing the need for government to enforce the law since it's now a criminal offence to mutilate young women in the name of circumcision, Lebimoyo, warned that enforcement sparingly done will not achieve the aim of reducing the scourge in the country.
He said the practice which is rampant in the various geopolitical zones of the country must be vigorously fought by any legal and moral means necessary.
He, therefore recommend that parents or family members who were caught mutilating their children should be paraded just the way armed robbers are paraded, so that others can see.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 25 per cent of the 140 million girls and women living with FGM worldwide are in Nigeria and this portends great danger for the future of the Nigerian girl child.
A study carried out by WHO also showed that of the 101 million girls of 10 years old and above estimated to have FGM in Africa, about 40.5 million are in Nigeria, marking a 41 per cent prevalence rate in the country alone. Nigeria is also topping the chat as the country with the highest prevalence rate of the practise globally - A 'fit' not worthy of edifying human existence, especially for Nigeria that prides itself as the giant of Africa.
It was also the same for the Research Director, Better Life Africa, Dr. Grace Adanri, who called on the government to enforce the laws prohibiting violence against persons for a better future for the Nigerian girl child.
According to her, "Most people are involved in the practice to attenuate sexual desire in the female, maintain chastity and virginity before marriage and fidelity during marriage, and in some quarters, they believe when a woman is circumcised, it increase her male partner's sexual pleasure when she eventually starts having sex.
"Also in some quarters, they believe it enhances and promotes child survival, better marriage prospect as well as aid in safe and stress-free delivery of babies. Some also believe the external female genitals are considered unclean and unsightly, and so are removed to promote hygiene and provide aesthetic appeal."
Adanri, who wondered why such reasons should be enough to mutilate a girl child, added that "looking at all these reasons in detail, one will discover that they are not true. Female circumcision does not determine whether a woman is clean or not. It does not determine promiscuity and it does not determine whether she and her male partner would enjoy sex better.
"As a matter of fact, it takes more away from the woman as this puts them at high risk of infection, incontinence; which is usually the case experienced by child brides, mostly the ones who undergo FGM and start having sex at an early age." Adanri further explained further implication of FGM to be irreversible lifelong health risks, possibility of infection due to unsterilised 'surgical equipments' and the unsanitary conditions in which it is generally practiced. In some cases, this practice can lead to the opening of passages between the vagina and bladder or anus, producing Vesico - Vaginal Fistula (VVF), a condition more commonly associated with the results of obstructed labor in early pregnancy but arising also in some cases from the cutting open of infibulated women."
She also explained that there was a possibility of failure of the wound to heal, leading to excessive growth of scar. "This could also lead to hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases, reproductive tract infection, infertility, obstructive labor, painful menstruation, painful sexual infection among several health issues."
Adanri, noted that it can as well lead to Recto -Vaginal Fistula (RVF), such that the pelvis and birth canal of the pregnant woman is not fully developed. "Hence, during childbirth, relentless pressure from the baby's skull damages the birth canal, causing breakage in the wall, allowing uncontrollable leakage from the bladder into vagina or uncontrollable leakage of faeces," she added.
She therefore called for the kind of campaign that was done during the Ebola crisis to be replicated for FGM considering the millions of women affected.
Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2003 showed a prevalence of FGM among adult women by geopolitical zone to be highest in the South-West with 56.9 per cent; South-East 40.8 per cent; South-South 34.7 per cent; North-Central 9.6 per cent; North-East 1.3 per cent; and North-West 0.4 per cent.
The survey therefore showed that south west, south south and south east which are regarded as the most educated regions in the country still top other regions, fueling the idea that cultural and customary belief on FGM are more in the southern region of the country than the northern region and that level of education has been unable to reduce its prevalence.
Time will therefore tell if the incoming government of General Muhammadu Buhari will go all out to enforce the law against the cruel practice as well as embark on massive campaigns to educate the people on the health implications.
By Martins Ifijeh
Source: www.allAfrica.com / This Day