Nigeria is one the few countries in Africa where the practice of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) has become a criminal offence by government legislation.
Many men and women who have been exposed to the inherent dangers in this old cultural and religious practice in parts of the country where the act is mostly carried out have reportedly opposed its further practice but then, this act remains one yet to be forgotten.
According to the latest figures (MICS 2011), 27 per cent of women aged 15-49 in Nigeria have undergone some form of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C).
In the latest available figure by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), An estimated 19.9 million Nigerian women have undergone FGM/C, meaning that approximately 16% of the 125 million FGM/C survivors worldwide are Nigerians (NPoC 2014).
Although, at 27 per cent, the overall prevalence of girls and women aged 15-49 years who have undergone some form of this practice in Nigeria is lower than in many countries, due to the large population of Nigeria, this country has the third highest absolute number of women and girls who have undergone FGM/C worldwide (after Egypt and Ethiopia).
The prevalence of FGM/C among girls aged 15-19 is 19 per cent (MICS 2011), showing that the prevalence has fallen. For the first time, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, adopted in Nigeria in 2015, prohibited FGM/C in Nigeria. However, despite this legislation, FGM/C is still widely practiced, particularly in the south of the country – with high prevalence rates in Ebonyi and Osun States.
The gatekeepers of culture and tradition – mostly grandmothers, mother-in-laws; religious, community and traditional leaders continue to promote this harmful practice in many areas. It is still widely held as a tribal traditional practice by such gatekeepers is also practiced under the false belief that it preserves chastity and purification, family honor, and hygiene, and that it protects virginity and prevents promiscuity. Some also falsely believe that it enhances fertility.
In 2015, both Gambia and Nigeria adopted national legislation criminalising FGM. More than 1,900 communities, covering an estimated population of 5 million people, in the 16 countries where data exist, made public declarations to abandon FGM.
The Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 include a target calling for the elimination of all harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage by 2030.
UNICEF’s research also reveals a possible link between a mother’s education and the likelihood that her daughter will be cut. Among the 28 countries with available data, around 1 in 5 daughters of women with no education have undergone FGM, compared to 1 in 9 daughters with mothers that have at least a secondary education.