Despite ban, female genital mutilation still thrives

Mrs. Nnenna (surname withheld for fear of intimidation) is unhappy that her three-year-old daughter underwent Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). She is unhappy because she is a survivor of the harmful practice and so really knows how much it hurts. 

The 34-year-old mother of three said her daughter was subjected to the harrowing experience by her mother-in-law in connivance with her husband, an act she said was totally against her wish.

The Imo State indigene said her mother-in-law insisted that her daughter’s clitoris (genitalia) must be cut and with her husband’s support she succeeded in cutting the little girl’s genitalia when she was three weeks old. 

“I had several quarrels with my mother-in-law and my husband over the issue and they refused and insisted that my daughter’s clitoris must be cut so that she will not be following men when she grows up.  

“I explained to my mother-in-law about the risks associated with FMG and they asked me if my mother did not circumcise me when she gave birth to me,” Mrs. Nnenna angrily said.  

Nnenna who hails from the Ahiazu Mbaise area of Imo State said FMG still thrives in Imo state and that it is difficult to see any female child in their community whose clitoris has not been cut or tampered with after birth by their grand-mothers, noting that the grandmothers claim the circumcision will help reduce promiscuity in the children when they become adults.

Sharing her frustration with PUNCH HealthWise, the businesswoman said, “I have three children, two boys, and a girl. I gave birth to my daughter in April 2020 during COVID-19. I was seven months pregnant when my husband and I travelled home in February.

“We travelled on February 25 and planned to stay for about two weeks. While we were planning to return to Lagos in March, there was a lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. So, my mother and mother-in-law suggested I stay back at home and deliver the baby while my husband, a commercial bus driver, returns to Lagos.

“Initially, I didn’t welcome the idea because of my two kids that I left in Lagos but after much persuasion from my husband, I heeded their advice and stayed back and delivered my daughter in the village. 

Clitoris cut two weeks after birth

“Two weeks after my delivery, my mother-in-law came and told me that it was time for my daughter to be circumcised. So, I politely told her that we have been told not to circumcise our girls again and that it is not good. But she refused.

“She told me that as long as my daughter was born into their family she must be circumcised whether I like it or not. She asked me to go and show her any girl that died from circumcision in their community since I claimed it was not good. She told me that every girl born into their family must be circumcised as long as she is alive, adding that they don’t want any promiscuous girl in their family.”

The dark-complexioned woman told our correspondent that her mother-in-law succeeded in cutting her daughter’s clitoris because there was no one to support her in the fight against the harmful practice.

Continuing, the trader said, “My husband was not in the village when I delivered, he had already returned to Lagos. So, when I insisted that my daughter will not be circumcised, my mother-in-law called my husband on phone and told him that our daughter must be circumcised. She told my husband that our daughter will be promiscuous when she grows up if we fail to circumcise her. 

“But I told my husband to ignore what his mother was saying about being promiscuous and all that. Instead of supporting me, he became angry and asked if I was more knowledgeable than his mother. My mother was sick at that time and there was nobody in my husband’s family to support me in the fight because they had all circumcised their girls.

“When my mother-in-law finally got my husband’s approval, she went and hired a local nurse to cut my daughter and that was how my daughter’s genitalia was cut. I wept when they were doing it. My mother-in-law was the one that carried my daughter when the nurse was cutting her.”

Baby given painkiller only

The groaning mother further said, “My daughter bled so much that very day. It was a bad sight to behold as a mother. She bled to a point that I thought she was going to die. 

“When they finished, they only asked me to give her paracetamol. My daughter cried inconsolably for hours as a result of the pain. Each time she urinates for over a week after she was cut, she will start crying. It was a bitter experience for me.

“Each time I remember how she was cut against my wish, I feel sad because I had no support.  

“I am a survivor of FGM and I know what I go through when it comes to sex with my husband. I don’t enjoy sex and I don’t want to talk about it. I just hope my daughter will not go through what I am going through now,” the mother of three narrated in agony.

FGM common in Imo State 

Asked if her mother-in-law was aware that FMG has been banned in Nigeria, Mrs. Nnenna said, “Banned where? if it has been banned not in our Imo State because our girls are still being cut by grandmas.”

FGM is a procedure involving partial or total removal of external female genitalia or another injury to the female genital organ for non-medical reasons. The act is globally recognised as an extreme violation of the rights of women and girls.

Another Lagos resident and mother of two from Ebonyi State State, Mrs. Jane Onu who shared a similar experience with Mrs. Nnenna, told PUNCH HealthWise that the law banning FGM in Nigeria was still not effective. 

The 28-year-old fashion designer said, “My mother and my mother-in-law also insisted that I must circumcise my daughters three weeks after their deliveries respectively. It was a battle between us. 

“I managed to allow them to circumcise my first daughter who is now five years because I delivered her in the village where my mother and grandmother surrounded me and called the shots while my husband was in Lagos.

“But when I delivered my second daughter in Lagos in January 2021, I refused to yield to their demand and threat. 

“With the support of my husband, we were able to overcome their pressures and troubles for us to circumcise our second daughter who is now three years 

“I was told by the doctor at the hospital where I delivered her never to circumcise her. If you don’t have your husband’s support on this, you can’t even say no when your husband’s family people have said yes. There is a limit you can fight them, especially your mother-in-law.

Findings by PUNCH HealthWise revealed that cases of FGM are still high in Nigeria despite the existence of a law in the country banning the practice.

FGM persists despite VAPP Act, others

In May 2015, former President Goodluck Jonathan signed Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act which banned FGM and all other gender-based violence in the country. 

Section 6 of the VAPP Act provides for a set of punishments for FGM. Some of these punishments 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.

Eight years after its existence, UNICEF in a new report said the practice remains widespread in Nigeria.

UNICEF notes that with an estimated 19.9 million survivors, Nigeria accounts for the third-highest number of women and girls who have undergone FGM worldwide.

The UN agency also said 4.3 million girls are at risk of FGM this year and the number is projected to reach 4.6 million by 2030.

This is even as the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen in November 2022 said 34 states and the Federal Capital Territory have domesticated the VAPP Act 2015 to curb incessant cases of violence across states.

Ms. Tallen, also said 32 states have also domesticated the Child Rights Act 2003,

Before the VAPP Act 2015 was signed into law, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which is the supreme law of the land provides in Section 34 that “no person shall be subjected to any form of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. 

Also, the Child Rights Act which was passed in 2003 in Nigeria has some provisions that outlaw this practice. Section 11(B) of this Act provides also that “no child shall be subjected to any form of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Despite these existing laws, a lot of girls are still subjected to the psychological and physical torture of FGM by their grandmothers and parents in Nigeria. 

Perpetrators of FGM still walk free 

Our correspondent, however, gathered that despite these laws, perpetrators of FGM still walk free in the country.

In Nigeria, the zones with the highest FGM prevalence rate are the South West and the South East.

There are so many reasons why FGM is practised in Nigeria. It ranges from cultural reasons to its being used to curb illicit sexual appetites of women and girls in the country.

A child rights advocate, Munachiso Okoli says it is regrettable that since the enactment of the VAPP Act, which she says provides for a set of punishments for perpetrators of FGM, no arrest has been made, lamenting that FGM is still practised in Nigeria despite the Act.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with PUNCH HealthWise, Okoli, who is the Coordinator of Girdle Network Nigeria, Abuja chapter, said, “The law stipulates that 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 to both.

“The Act also provided that 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 to both.

“The challenge has been poor implementation.

“Since the signing of this law in 2015, we have not had any arrest of FGM perpetrators.

“Yet, every year in Africa, about 3 million girls are circumcised and Nigeria has the second highest number of girls circumcised in Africa.”

The child rights advocate listed Osun, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Imo, and Oyo states as the top five states in Nigeria with the highest prevalence of FGM, saying the practice has no value whatsoever to mental health, physical health, society, education, economy and every aspect of life.

Further investigations by PUNCH HealthWise show that some parents and grandmothers have adopted a new trend of massaging the clitoris with concoctions to achieve FGM.

More dangerous method emerges 

Our correspondent gathered that some states and various communities where FGM is prevalent in the country have shifted from performing the act with scissors, razors, and knives to massaging the clitoris through the application of a mixture of petroleum jelly and menthol ointments. 

It involves the usage of petroleum jelly, menthol ointments, and hot water to render the clitoris numb and push the same back to the body.

A mother of four from Oyo State, Mrs. Abigail Bolaji said, “Those who are afraid of the government to cut their daughters are now using their fingers to do it. That one is better than cutting. My mother did it for my daughter. Three days after she was born, whenever my mother bathes her, she will use her right thumb to press the clitoris inside after applying petroleum jelly, menthol ointments, and hot water to it. 

“She did that for my daughter morning, and night for three months and the size of her clitoris was reduced. The reason why I allowed it was to prevent the clitoris from scratching her when she grows up.”

Other mothers who spoke with PUNCH HealthWise shared similar experiences.

A midwife who operates a maternity home in Lagos State who prefers anonymity told our correspondent that a lot of women from the Southeast still bring their daughters for circumcision eight to 10 days after delivery. 

“FGM is still a common practice in Nigeria. There is no week that I don’t see at least women who bring their daughters for circumcision, especially women from the southeast. When I tell them that the government has banned FGM and that it is a harmful practice, they will tell me that their mothers-in-law insist that their granddaughters must be circumcised. 

“Some of them even travel to the village to do it when I turn them down. Some parents even beg me to come to their house to circumcise their daughters secretly,” the midwife said. 

FGM has no benefit – WHO

Meanwhile, experts say there are four types of FGM.

Type one is the removal of the hood of the clitoris. Type 2 is the removal of the entire clitoris as well as part of the small lip of the vagina; while type 3 is the total excision of the entire female genitalia and suturing of the vagina — also known as infibulation.

Type 4 is said to be anything done to the vagina that cannot be assigned to the categories above.

According to the World Health Organisation, FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways.

Data from the WHO shows that FGM causes multiple sexual health problems for the survivors, such as damage to a female’s anatomic structures that are directly involved in sexual function, and can therefore have an effect on the victim’s sexual health and well-being.

Experts kick 

Medical experts who spoke with PUNCH HealthWise on the issue urged parents to stop cutting the clitoris of their daughters, warning that the harmful practice causes trauma among other health problems. 

Speaking with our correspondent, a renowned Obstetrician, and Gynecologist, Prof. Oladapo Ladipo, said cutting the clitoris should be discouraged by parents. 

Prof. Ladipo who is President/Chief Executive Officer of the Association for Reproductive and Family Health said, “There is no reason for tampering with the external genitalia of a female child like cutting or squeezing the clitoris. 

“There is no need at all. Clitoris has no negative effects on childbirth and if the baby’s head touches the clitoris, it is not going to do anything to the baby as far as I know and as far as science knows. 

“Circumcision of the girl child should be discouraged even by the government. It does not confer any known benefit to the female child. Secondly, it can be very traumatic and the complications can be fatal sometimes. So, circumcision of the female child should be banned in any culture because there is no rationale for it”.

Further warning of its dangers, the gynaecologist said FGM was unhealthy and violates the rights of women and girls. 

Prof. Ladipo called on the federal and state governments to protect the rights of women and girls from all forms of violence and abuse by enforcing laws against FGM.

Also speaking with our correspondent, General Medical Practitioner, Dr. Tunji Akintade, called on the government at all levels to enforce laws violating the rights and dignity of women and girls.

He stated that the new trend of FGM practice, commonly referred to as the ‘medicalisation of FGM,’ was unacceptable, asking the public to report any medical practitioner found in the harmful practice to the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria for disciplinary action.

“Medicalising the practice of FGM does not eliminate the danger it poses to women, as it still removes and damages healthy and normal tissue and interferes with the natural functions of a girl’s body,” he said.

Way forward 

The experts urged the Federal Government to implement laws against FGM and ensure that it is banned in all cultures across Nigeria to bring an end to the practice in the country.


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