Introduction

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision or female genital cutting, refers to the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted gender inequality and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. Despite efforts to eradicate the practice, FGM continues to be prevalent in Nigeria, affecting the fundamental human rights of women across the country.

The Practice of Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria

Female Genital Mutilation is a deeply ingrained cultural practice in Nigeria, particularly among certain ethnic groups. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nigeria has one of the highest prevalence rates of FGM in the world, with an estimated 20 million Nigerian women and girls having undergone the procedure. The practice is often justified on cultural, religious, and social grounds, and is believed to control women’s sexuality, ensure their chastity, and prepare them for marriage.

 

Impact on Fundamental Human Rights of Women

The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) has far-reaching implications for the fundamental human rights of women in Nigeria. Female genital mutilation violates the rights to health, security, physical integrity, and freedom from discrimination and violence of women and young girls. It can lead to a range of physical, psychological, and sexual complications, including severe pain, hemorrhage, infection, infertility, psychological trauma and in very extreme cases death. Furthermore, FGM perpetuates gender inequality and reinforces harmful gender stereotypes, depriving women of their autonomy and decision-making power over their own bodies.

 

Existing Legal Provisions

  1. 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

Section 34 (1)(a) of the Nigerian Constitution states that “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly – (a) no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.”

The above provision of law although not explicitly referring to the act of Female Genital Mutilation, however covers every act that subjects a person to inhuman or other degrading treatment which gives a clear description of what a victim of FGM is put under while going through the crude procedure involved in FGM.

  1. Child Rights Act (CRA) 2003

Section 11(b) of this Act provides that “no child shall be subjected to any form of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”

This Act, applicable only in 35 States of Nigeria including the FCT with the exclusion of Gombe State, prohibits degrading acts against children and provides for the protection of children’s rights. It imposes penalties on offenders and emphasizes the importance of education and awareness programs against actions that are detrimental to a child’s welfare. Notwithstanding the umbrella protection contained in the proviso above, the Act just like the 1999 CFRN did not expressly refer or mention Female genital mutilation (FGM) thereby limiting the prosecutorial power of the law in cases of FGM under this Act.

 

  1. Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015

Section 6 (1), (2) , (3) and (4) of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 provides that;

  1. (1) The circumcision or genital mutilation of the girl child or woman is hereby prohibited.

(2) A person who performs female circumcision or genital mutilation or engages another to carry out such circumcision or mutilation commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 4 years or to a fine not exceeding N200,000.00 or both.

(3) A person who attempts to commit the offence provided for in subsection (2) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding N100,000.00 or both.

(4) A person who incites, aids, abets, or counsels another person to commit the offence provided for in subsection (2) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding N100,000.00 or both.

 

The provision of this Act unlike other previously mentioned legislations directly criminalizes female genital mutilation and provides for punishment, including imprisonment and fines, for offenders. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) established for the implementation of the VAPPA, upgraded the Sexual and Gender Based Violence Unit to the Violence Against Persons Prohibitions Department to ensure the effective implementation of the Act.

Enforcement Challenges

Despite the existence of the above mentioned legislations, criminalizing the commission and enabling of female genital mutilation in Nigeria, the prosecution of these cases still faces significant challenges and limitations. One major challenge is the deep-seated cultural acceptance of FGM, which makes it difficult for survivors and witnesses to come forward and report cases. Additionally, limited awareness of the legal provisions and inadequate enforcement of the laws contribute to the under-reporting and impunity surrounding FGM cases. Furthermore, the lack of specialized training for law enforcement officials and judicial personnel hinders the effective investigation and prosecution of FGM cases.

 

Reform Measures

To combat the practice of FGM in Nigeria and protect the fundamental human rights of women, here are some reformative and legal recommendations:

  1. Implementation of Legislation Against FGM: there is need for proper Implementation of existing legislations that specifically criminalizes all forms of FGM in Nigeria.
  2. Legal Protection for Victims: there is need to strengthen and widen legal protections available for victims of FGM, including provisions for restraining orders and emergency shelters for those at risk of undergoing the procedure. Also, it is important to ensure that victims have access to legal aid and support services to seek justice and protection from further harm.
  3. Institutional Capacity Building: Government must build the capacity of law enforcement agencies, judiciary, and healthcare professionals to effectively respond to cases of FGM. Provide training on identifying, investigating, and prosecuting FGM cases, as well as sensitization on the rights of women and girls.
  4. Education and Awareness Programs: stakeholders including State actors should introduce and fund educational programs targeting communities where FGM is prevalent. These programs should focus on raising awareness about the harmful physical, psychological, and social consequences of FGM. They should also emphasize the importance of gender equality and human rights.
  5. Community Engagement and Empowerment: there is need for State and non-state actors to engage with community leaders, religious authorities, and traditional practitioners to gain their support in abandoning the horrific practice of FGM. While empowering local leaders to champion the cause and promote alternative rites of passage that respect cultural traditions without harming girls and women.
  6. Healthcare Support and Counselling Services: Government along with other state actors must ensure the provision of adequate access to healthcare services, including counselling and medical treatment, for survivors of FGM. Establish specialized clinics and support centres equipped to provide medical and psychological care to survivors. These services should be sensitive to cultural norms and provide support without stigmatizing survivors.
  7. Data Collection and Research: State and non-State actors involved in FGM campaigns must invest in comprehensive data collection and research to understand the prevalence and root causes of FGM in different regions of Nigeria. This information is essential for developing targeted interventions and evaluating the effectiveness of existing strategies.
  8. International Collaboration: all relevant agencies including government and non-governmental organizations must collaborate with international organizations, such as the United Nations and World Health Organization, to leverage resources and expertise in the fight against FGM. Participate in regional and global initiatives aimed at ending FGM and share best practices with other countries facing similar challenges.

 

CONCLUSION

While it seems that there are proper legislations put in place to prosecute cases of FGM in Nigeria, it still remains a wonder that there are no judicial precedents available to show that a competent court of law in Nigeria has tried a case of FGM. With this being the case, there is little or no doubt that perpetrators of these inhuman acts will continue unabated. There is therefore a need for the swift prosecution of FGM cases by Law enforcement agencies in other to serve as a deterrence to others against future commission. There is also, an urgent need for government both in the State and Federal level to set up supervisory committees, to ensure that proper implementation and revised standards are put in place to tackle the menace of FGM in the country. This will go to show that the country has moved past lip service in its war to end FGM.

 


NOTE: The section on legal Briefs is a forum for frank and open scholarly notes by research staff and guest contributors. Views expressed in these notes are personal to the authors and are not to be attributed to the Centre.

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