BY BLESSING OLADUNJOYE
For what purpose could a time to be circumcised and be inflicted with pains be described as? Many parents decide to circumcise their daughters because of the main purpose of sustaining culture and practicing archaic traditions.
Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is the practice of partially or totally removing the external genitalia of girls and young women is done for non-medical reasons. While one would have imagined that this archaic tradition is no longer in practice, many parents are still found involved in this.
A recent incident was that of Blessing, a 13 year old from Igede tribe in Benue state. She was faced with the threats of being cut by her parents who reside in Ogongo village in Abeokuta, Ogun state. Blessing who could neither see the benefit nor withstand the pains of being cut had to seek for help and interventions from her guardian she stays with in Lagos. Blessing had almost surrendered herself to be cut when she was left with no option and threats were high from her parents.
Narrating her ordeal, Blessing said, “my parents told me that if I am not cut, I won’t be privileged to attend their burial and if I die uncut, I would be buried in the evil forest, because it is a taboo for a girl not to be cut.”
Blessing mentioned that she had witnessed when her elder sister was cut and saw the pain she went through and could not imagine going through the same.
Blessing’s guardian is indeed her guardian angel because she sought the counsel of a medical doctor, to speak with Blessing’s parents and educate them on the adverse effect of FGM. The services of The Girldle Network, a non-governmental organization which campaigns against FGM was also sought, with the organisation visiting the girl’s parent in Ogun state.
Blessing’s parents felt offended about their daughter’s disobedience to the culture of the land and also bringing strangers to their homes for the purpose of violating their culture and tradition. After a long persuasion, the parents revealed the reasons they have insisted their daughter must be cut.
“The practice of FGM has been on since time immemorial in our village, it is a basic believe that any female that is not cut is a bastard. We have insisted that our daughter must be cut because it is the practice of our forefathers and it must be maintained,” the father said.
He, interestingly, added that nothing would happen to the girl if she is not cut, but they need to save the dignity of the family by ensuring that their girls are cut so they are not referred to as bastards.
Speaking with the parents, Sylvia Chioma, project coordinator of the Girdle Network, highlighted the side effects of FGM and reiterated that there are no known benefits of FGM, and eventually, Blessing’s parents gave their words that their daughter would not be cut.
Perpetrators of FGM usually give reasons for circumcising the girl child but health practitioners have said there are adverse effects of such act.
Ajibogun David, a medical doctor, explained that the health implications are not limited to severe pain, excessive bleeding, infections, genital tissue swelling, impaired wound healing, urination problem and HIV which could occur through the use of equipment that are not sterilized.
“FGM could lead to death because there could be infections, especially Tetanus, excessive loss of blood could cause death,” he said.
“Psychological trauma could also arise from FGM. I would also like to mention that there are long term implications of FGM which could be Menstrual problems and Increased risk of childbirth complications.”
Asked what could be the benefits of FGM, Ajibogun said there are no known benefits of FGM, adding that, “FGM is motivated by beliefs about what is considered acceptable sexual behavior but it usually cause Sexual problems which include reduced sexual satisfaction and pains during sexual intercourse.”
He said FGM is a violation of human rights and sexual and reproductive health rights of girls and women and it should not be encouraged.
Speaking on laws and legislation against FGM in Nigeria, Oluyemi Orija, a legal practitioner, said; “There is law against Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria and the law is (Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act 2015). This Act was signed into law by former president Goodluck Jonathan but unfortunately only about 9 states in Nigeria have domesticated the said law. It is one thing for law to be enacted, it’s another thing for same to be enforced.
“FGM is a crime committed by ones parent, and it is almost impossible for a child to want to report her parent to the law enforcement agency. That is why the need for campaign to sensitize parents both in the rural and urban area against the act is very essential. It is safer not to cut, than to be cut and then battling litigation with one’s family.”
Orija said cases of FGM should be reported and should attract appropriate sanctions.
Speaking on ways to eradicate the practice, Orija said: “we have realized that sensitizing village chiefs, kings, parents both in rural and urban areas is the only solution we have to eradicate FGM. Doctors and nurses should be informed to also preach it to mothers at antenatal classes. That way FGM may be a thing of the past! Law alone won’t eradicate it! It is important for laws to be there because at our campaigns we use the section of these laws to scare the parents and the practitioners of this inhuman act.”
Chioma explained that re-orientation would go a long way to help eradicate the practice of FGM most especially because perpetrators are mainly sustaining archaic cultures.
“Our primary focus is to add our voices in the campaign against FGM and VAWC. To women, ‘Girdle’ represent ‘protection’ – so, we adopted that as the name of the organization, and the ‘Network’ part signifies that we would be working with facilitators from other fields (lawyers and doctors) to sensitize women on the health complication and criminality of FGM.
“Our type of advocacy is unique in the way that we believe that ICE (information, communication and education) materials, such as books, would achieve better results than just talking to participants about FGM and then, allowing them go home without any souvenir to remind them of issues discussed. As such, we developed an anti-FGM booklet as a keepsake for women and the beauty of it is that we have translated it to the three major languages in Nigeria.”