Female Circumcision and the Bane of Zero Enforcement 

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the recent death of a 13-year-old in Ogun State after she was circumcised has again brought to the front  burner the need to enforce the bill criminalising female genital mutilation

In many parts of Nigeria, the mutilation of the female genital is still prevalent in many cultures and societies. What is also not brought to public glare is that many young females are still made to go through the harrowing experience of genital circumcision in this part of the world.

Only recently, a junior secondary school 2 student in Sango-Ota area of Ogun State reportedly lost her life while the act was being carried out on her. The deceased, simply identified as Idayatu, was said to have been crudely ‘operated’ on by a traditional attendant, a male, to remove her female genitals when she went into coma ostensibly due to the huge pains often encountered in the act.

It was reported that she was rushed to a private hospital when the traditional attendant could not tend to her pains, and later died in that private hospital. Her mother, Mrs. Busiratu Alogba, it was gathered had earlier refused circumcision on her daughter but her husband had to give in to family threats not to re-write tradition, but must submit his daughter for the act.

When the death occurred, the community rallied round to look for the traditional attendant, but he was nowhere to be found. The family had no choice but to lick their wounds in private.

Speaking to reporters in tears recently, Alogba said: “It is such a stupid thing I can tell you. I remember when my mother-in-law first raised the issue, I rejected it and my husband supported me. It was weeks after my husband went to his village for a burial that he came home saying Idayatu must be circumcised.”

Idayatu’s case is not a lone incident. Mrs. Omotayo Joana Salami, who spoke from exile, explained her ordeal in Ibadan, Oyo State when she lived there with her four kids and husband.

According to her, “What is my saddest experience in life happened on June 10, 2018 at about 10:00am when my twin daughters,

Emma and Ella were forcefully taken from our home in Ibadan, Oyo State by one of my husband’s relatives, under the guise of tradition and customs for them to be circumcised. They were five years old at the time. I was taken aback and resisted vehemently that this would not happen but all my pleas fell on deaf ears. Despite this, my daughters were taken away.”

Salami added that her husband’s family had insisted on carrying out the circumcision on her twin girls since birth but she and her husband refused to give in. She said threats accompanied with harassments were meted out on her family on daily basis.

Continuing her narration, she stated that it took the timely intervention of her neighbours and law enforcement agencies to rescue her girls from a traditional birth/ health centre where the circumcision was about to be carried out on them.

Speaking further, the distraught mother said she was physically assaulted before her daughters were forcefully taken away, “I don’t know what would have happened if people around had not waded into the matter.

“My girls would have been violated and gone through a harrowing experience in the name of a family tradition. Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies can’t really protect my daughters against Female Genital Mutilation.

Consequently, my husband, Rawlins and I resolved that in order to protect our daughters from physical and emotional harm, we had to flee the country. It’s so shameful”, she said.

That case was similar to the experience of one Ronke Kazeem, a teacher at a private secondary school in Abeokuta, Ogun State, who was divorced by her husband because she refused to submit her 14-year-old daughter for circumcision.

According to Kazeem, “I am currently suffering from a tradition that inflict pains on human being and because I rejected it for my daughter. My then husband came up with a story that our daughter must be circumcised according to his people’s tradition but I said ‘No’.

“That led to serious quarrel between us and eventually I left the house with my two children and he has never looked back to check on us. I am happy for my decision to prevent my daughter from being circumcised,” she concluded.

Female Genital Mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) otherwise known as circumcisionaccording to m Emmanuel Ajibulu, a social commentator and a communication strategist, is an old traditional practice still being practiced in parts of Nigeria, making it one of the 27 countries in Africa where FGM is still being celebrated.

He said, “FGM is an invasive and painful surgical procedure that is often performed without anesthetic on the girl-child before puberty. In some instances an adult female who probably escaped FGM during childhood would be forced to be circumcisedbefore her marriage.

“Their prepuce is removed and their clitoris may be partially or completely removed. In some traditions the operation is far more invasive; the labia minora are also surgically removed and the labia majora are sewn together, covering the urethra and vagina. A small opening is retained for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid.”

Attitudes, beliefs and misconceptions are some of the reasons Nigerians continue this practice out of adherence to a cultural dictate with erroneous and fallacious views that uncircumcised women are promiscuous, unclean, unmarriageable, physically undesirable and/or potential health risks to themselves and their children, especially during childbirth. Another traditional belief, which remains unproven is that if a male child’s head touches the clitoris during childbirth, the child will die.

FGM Categories

Quoting reports released by the Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues, Office of the Under Secretary for Global Affairs, U.S. Department of State, an article he wrote on FGM broke it down to categories.

He said, “Types or categories of this pre-marital custom are clearly enunciated in different forms. However the organisation distinctively stated that they are unaware of any support groups to protect an unwilling woman or girl against this practice.

“They are: Type I (commonly referred to as clitoridectomy), Type II (commonly referred to as excision) and Type III (commonly referred to as infibulation) are the most common forms of female genital mutilation (FGM) or female genital cutting (FGC) practiced in Nigeria.

“Type IV is practiced to a much lesser extent. The form practiced varies by ethnic group and geographical location. It crosses the numerous population groups and is a part of the many cultures, traditions and customs that exist in Nigeria.”

FGM Prevalence in Africa

Speaking on the prevalence, Ajibulu said, “Various sources estimate that from about 60 to 140 million women (the figures might have increased or decreased by now) in the world have been circumcised. An average of about four girls a minute continue to be mutilated.”

His assertions are collaborated by the statistics released by Amnesty International, Demographic Health Survey (DHS), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF),   (USAID), United States Department of State and World Health Organisation (WHO), which states that the prevalence of FGM is quite high in many countries with Indonesia claiming 100 per cent.

The collective statistics from all these bodies include Benin Republic, which recorded 16.8 per cent prevalence, Burkina Faso with 76.6 per cent and Cameroon with just one per cent.

Also, Central Africa Republic was 35.9 per cent, Ethiopia 79.9 per cent, while Chad had 44.9 per cent and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) 44.5 per cent, as well as Djibouti with 90- 98 per cent.

While the statistics for Congo is unknown, Egypt recorded 93.7 per cent, Eritrea 88.7 per cent, and Gambia 60-90 per cent, while Ghana recorded 5.4 per cent. Also, Guinea has 98.6 per cent, Indonesia 100 percent, Kenya 32.2 per cent, Liberia 50 per cent, Mali 91.6 per cent, with Mauritania recording 71.5 per cent.

In Niger, the prevalence is 4.5 per cent, with Nigeria having 19 per cent, Senegal 28.2 per cent, Sierra Leone between 80- 90 per cent, Somalia 90-98 per cent, Sudan 90 per cent, Tanzania 17.7 per cent, Togo 12 per cent, Uganda was five per cent and Yemen at 22.6 per cent.

FGM in Nigeria

But in Ajibulu’s report, he focused on the prevalence of FGM in Nigeria. He however admitted that with its over 250 ethnic groups and an estimated population of 150 million, a national estimate of this practice is very difficult. Quoting a 1999 Demographic and Health Survey of 8,205 women nationally, he said the survey estimates that 25.1 per cent of the women of Nigeria have undergone one of these procedures.

Also quoting a 1997 World Health Organisation (WHO) study, he said an estimated 30,625 million women and girls, or about 60 per cent of the nation’s total female population, have undergone one of these forms. He also said another 1996 United Nations Development Systems study reported a similar number of 32.7 million Nigerian women affected.

Also quoting a Nigerian Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Coalition study, he said 33 per cent of all households practice one of these forms. He wrote, “However, according to some Nigerian experts in the field, the actual incidence may be much higher than these figures.

“Leaders of the Nigerian National Committee (also the Inter-African Committee of Nigeria on Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC) have been conducting a state by state study of the practice.

“This 1997 study by the Center for Gender and Social Policy Studies of Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife was contracted in 1996 by a number of organisations including WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Nigerian Federal Health Ministry.

“The study covered 148,000 women and girls from 31 community samples nationwide. The results from fragmented data, according to IAC/Nigeria, show the following prevalence and type in the following states in Nigeria.”

Breaking down the prevalence state by state he wrote, “Abia (no study); Adamawa (60-70 per cent, Type IV); Akwa Ibom (65-75 per cent, Type II); Anambra (40-60 per cent, Type II); Bauchi (50-60 per cent, Type IV); Benue (90-100 per cent, Type II) and Borno (10-90 percent, Types I, III and IV).

“Cross River (no study); Delta (80-90 per cent, Type II); Edo (30-40 per cent, Type II); Enugu (no study); Imo (40-50 per cent, Type II); Jigawa (60-70 per cent, Type IV); Kaduna (50-70 per cent, Type IV); Katsina (no study); Kano (no study); Kebbi (90-100 per cent, Type IV); Kogi (one per cent, Type IV); Kwara (60-70 percent, Types I and II); Lagos (20-30 per cent, Type I); Niger (no study) and Ogun (35-45 per cent, Types I and II).

“Ondo (90-98 per cent, Type II); Osun (80-90 per cent, Type I); Oyo (60-70 per cent, Type I); Plateau (30-90 per cent, Types I and IV); Rivers (60-70 per cent, Types I and II); Sokoto (no study); Taraba (no study); Yobe (0-1 per cent, Type IV); Fct Abuja (no study).

“While all three forms occur throughout the country, Type III, the most severe form (narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and repositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris), has a higher incidence in the northern states.

“Type II and Type I are more predominant in the south. Of the six largest ethnic groups, the Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Ibo, Ijaw and Kanuri, only the Fulani do not practice any form. The Yoruba practice mainly Type II and Type I. The Hausa and Kanuri practice Type III. The Ibo and Ijaw, depending upon the local community, practice any one of the three forms.”

Long Journey to Criminalising FGM

With civilisation, many cultures were either modified or dropped in entirety. Cultures like killing of twins, prohibiting kids from eating meat and so many others were eradicated but not FGM, which still exists in some communities.

As far back as 2002, there were talks by the Nigerian legislature to outlaw FGM and impose a two year jail term for offenders, although it allows for an option of a fine of $100 (£69 or €111) or the imposition of both a fine and incarceration of six months.

The reason for the global stand against FGM is the dangers it poses to the victims. From severe pains caused by lack of anaesthesia, to shock, excessive bleeding, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and even death.

According to research, the bill was actually unanimously passed by the House of Representatives in 2001 before it was sent to the senate to pass the bill. Reports said the senate was expected to conclude its deliberations on the bill in May of 2002 and then send it to the then President Olusegun Obasanjo for his assent. It is however unclear what happened and the bill was not passed as projected.

The first clause of the bill prohibiting circumcision of girls and women says “No person shall circumcise a girl or woman and no person shall abet or aid the circumcision of any girl or woman.”

Finally, after much delay, the senate put words to action and passed the bill to criminalise FGM. The bill which is called ‘Violence against Persons Prohibition’ (VAPP) seeks to prohibit female circumcision or genital mutilation, forceful ejection from home and harmful widowhood practices.

Sponsored by the then Leader of the Senate, Victor Ndoma-Egba, the bill also prohibits abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance, battery and harmful traditional practices. According to the details in the bill, it is also intended to eliminate violence in private and public life and provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims of violence, and punishment of offenders. The bill also prohibits forced isolation, depriving persons of their liberty, economic abuse, incest, separation from family and friends, substance attack and indecent exposure, among others.

The senate sitting which was presided by the then Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, said the passage of the bill would provide adequate protection for the vulnerable in the society and punish those who take undue advantage of them. Commending the senators and other stakeholders for their efforts in ensuring that the bill was passed, he said it is a good step in the fight against violence in the society.

So, with the law criminalising FGM, it definitely behooves the executive to enforce the laws passed by the legislature, even as community leaders should be engaged to help raise awareness on the dangers of the age-old cultural practice.

Penalties of the VAPP Act

The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 was signed into law on May 23, 2015 and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) was mandated to administer the provisions of the Act, by virtue of Section 44 of the Act.

In the VAPP Act, the performance of FGM comes with aterm of imprisonment not exceeding four years or a fine not exceeding N200,000.00 or both. It’s yet unclear how many people have been prosecuted on these grounds and what the judgment was.

Role of NAPTIP

Created on July 14, 2003, the main thrust of NAPTIP is to eliminate violence in private and public life, prohibit all forms of violence against persons to provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders and for other related matters. The right of the victims  include the right to receive necessary materials, comprehensive medical, psychological, social and legal assistance through governmental Agencies or non-governmental agencies providing such assistance.

To implement the VAPP Act, NAPTIP goes through the coordination of its multi-disciplinary departments- investigation, legal and prosecution, counseling and rehabilitation, are all pivotal to the implementation of the Act.

Bane of Enforcement

However, despite a law clearly stating the government’s position against the practice, the lack of enforcement has been the bane of it. The apathy of those that should enforce this ban has been declared one of the main issues why the practice is still popular. Also, the lack of awareness of the dangers posed by FGM is another problem.

So, with the law criminalising FGM, it definitely behooves the executive to enforce the laws passed by the legislature, even as community leaders should be engaged to help raise awareness on the dangers of the age-old cultural practice.