The Harmful Reality of Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria

Credit: Abubakar Balogun

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a harmful traditional practice that affects millions of girls and women worldwide, including in Nigeria. It is the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs, often performed without the individual's consent. FGM is not only physically traumatic but also has immediate and long-term health consequences, including excruciating pain, shock, urine retention, septicaemia, infertility, obstructed labour, and even death.

Reasons for FGM in Nigeria

In Nigeria, FGM is performed by traditional practitioners and varies among states, tribes, religions, and cultural settings. The reasons for the practice are diverse, including superstitious beliefs for preservation of chastity and purification, family honour, hygiene, aesthetic reasons, and protection of virginity. FGM is also believed to prevent promiscuity, modify sociosexual attitudes, increase the sexual pleasure of the husband, enhance fertility, and increase matrimonial opportunities. In some cases, it is performed to prevent the mother and child from dying during childbirth and for legal reasons (one cannot inherit property if not circumcised).

Government Efforts to End FGM in Nigeria

The government of Nigeria has recognized the harmful effects of FGM and has taken steps to end the practice. The National Policy on Female Genital Mutilation (October 2000) and the National Strategic Plan of Action are multi-sectoral approaches aimed at eliminating FGM. The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs has also undertaken targeted advocacy and sensitization programs to traditional rulers, religious leaders, and policy makers to raise awareness of harmful traditional practices. This has led to state legislations that condemn FGM.

Human Rights Violations

FGM is a fundamental violation of human rights and subjects girls and women to health risks and life-threatening consequences. It violates the right to health and bodily integrity as stated in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being.” It also cannot be considered a practice that is given informed consent, as girls and children cannot be expected to fully understand the potentially damaging effects of FGM.

Prevalence of FGM in Nigeria