Understanding that laws against FGM, in Nigeria, are not necessarily meant to punish anyone rather to promote the health and welfare of women and girls.

Today, community-level public declarations and various level of consensus building on FGM abandonment are already being widely recorded among cutting communities in various states in Nigeria.

Going forward, a functional and accessible end-FGM legal framework is no doubt an important tool for eliminating this harmful traditional practice completely.

The enactment of the anti-FGM law, Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015, which is being domesticated by various States, represents a milestone in the campaign to end FGM in Nigeria.

There is need to ensure that FGM-related legal services are not just in existence but also accessible by the end-users; FGM survivors or girls/womenat risk of being subjected to the practice.

FGM refers to any procedure that involves “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or any other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”  The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified FGM into four types, and they are all practiced in Nigeria.

Type I FGM: partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (Clitoridectomy).

Subgroups of Type I FGM are: type Ia, removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only; type Ib, removal of the clitoris with the prepuce.

Type II FGM: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision).

Subgroups of Type II FGM are: type IIa, removal of the labia minora only; type IIb, partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora; type IIc, partial or total removal of the clitoris, labia minora and labia majora.

Type III FGM: narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).

Subgroups of Type III FGM are: type IIIa, removal and apposition of the labia minora; type IIIb, removal and apposition of the labia majora.

Reinfibulation is covered under this definition. This is a procedure to recreate an infibulation, for example after childbirth when defibulation is necessary.

Type IV FGM: unclassified – all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for nonmedical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.

Type IV FGM also includes the practice of “massaging” or applying petroleum jelly, herbal concoctions or hot water to the clitoris to desensitize it or pushing it back into the body, which is common in many parts of Nigeria, especially Imo State.

FGM is widely recognized as a harmful practice and a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted discrimination against girls and women, profoundly entrenched in social, economic and political structures.

While de facto violent, the practice is perpetrated without a primary intention of violence. It is considered to be a necessary step to enable girls to become women and to be socially accepted, together with the rest of the family.

FGM functions as a self-enforcing social convention or social norm. Families and individuals uphold the practice because they believe that their group or society expects them to do so and they expect that they will suffer social sanctions if they do not.

For more information on FGM you can visit http://www.who.int andwww.endcuttinggirls.com. You may also watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0-dYD9cYKo&t=80sand other EndFGM- related videos on our YouTube channel “Endcuttinggirls Nigeria”. @WHO

In Nigeria, data from 2016-2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) indicates that the National FGM prevalence rate has dropped from 27% (2011 MICS)to 18.4%(2017 MICS)for amongst women aged 15-49years. The positive changes may be reflecting supportive legal and policy environments at national level, state, as well as community-based efforts to abandon FGM in Nigeria.

Despite the progress made in so far in Nigeria, many girls still remain at risk of FGM.  This is reflected in the National FGM prevalence among girls aged 0-14 years, which increased from 19.2% (MICS 2011) to 25.3% (MICS 2017).

Beside the health challenges, FGM also violates a series of well-established human rights principles, norms and standards.

Human rights principles violated by FGM includes: 1) Principles of equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex,2) Right to life when the procedure results in death; other Human rights principles violated by FGM are 3) Right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. 4) Rights of the child; and 5) Right to the highest attainable standard of health.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children(UNCRC), a human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic social, health and cultural rights of children, also strives to protect children from FGM in Articles 19.

UNCRC Article 24: Countries should take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.

In Nigeria, there are national laws prohibiting the practice of FGM and other offences issues which violate the rights of Girls/Women such as the 1999 Constitution (as amended), Child Rights Act(2003) and Violence Against Persons Prohibition law (2015). The Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) states that “No person shall be subjected to any form of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment”.

The section 11(B) of the Child Rights Act (2003) states that “No child shall be subjected to any form of torture,inhuman or degrading treatment”. Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law (2015) states that ”a person who performs female circumcisionor genital mutilation or engages another to carry out such,commits an offence punishable by 4 years imprisonment or to a fine of N200,000 or both.

In addition to the National Laws, we also State laws that prohibit the practice of FGM in the five states where the UNFPA/UNICEF Joint Programme on Eliminating FGM is taking place such as 1) Ebonyi State Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Law, 2018; other anti-FGM laws are Imo state FGM (Prohibition) Law (2017); Violence Against Women Law, 2016 (Oyo State); Osun State Female Circumcision and Genital Mutilation (Prohibition) Law 2004; and Female Circumcision (Prohibition) Law, 2002 (Ekiti State).

The availability of FGM-related legal services is important but also essential in ensuring the accessibility of services to persons subjected to FGM and/or persons facing the threat of undergoing the practice.

Firstly, In Nigeria where the culture of silence still surrounds FGM in many quarters, a lot needs to be done to encourage people to speak out when subjected or about to be subjected to this harmful practice.

The public needs to be aware that a survivor has the freedom and the right to disclose an incident to anyone. 

Also, in Nigeria many women and girls who would need FGM-related services may not have the financial willpower to access such services.

Therefore to harmonize the process involved in accessing FGM-related legal services, all government and non-government stakeholders at various state levels need to come together and develop a bottom-up Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)&referral pathway.

These referral pathways, with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs),will serve for case management and by extension make easier the accessibility of FGM-related legal services

These stakeholders and organizations must thereafter commit to disseminate the SOPs and referral pathways in communities where they operate to ensure knowledge and improve access of FGM survivors to services (including legal) and support.

At the bottom of the referral pathway, a survivor may disclose her experience or threat of FGM to a trusted family member or friend. She may also seek help from a trusted individuals or organization.

Anyone the survivor tells about her experience has a responsibility to give honest and complete information about services (including legal) available and encourage her to seek help where available.

As earlier mentioned above, the survivor has the freedom to report the incident/event to anyone. She may seek help from community leaders, social workers, health workers or friends.

For each FGM case, the provider need to ensure that a written consent form is completed by the survivor describing the incident in her own words.

If the survivor is trying to escape FGM, she would still provide information on the event and provide her consent before protection or any other services are offered.

Also, if the survivor is illiterate, her exact words should be written and read loudly to him/her to understand before he/she can indicate signature with a thumbprint.

Referrals should be made among the various government and non-government actors from those who first got the report to the actual legal service providers.

Where legal services are needed, the consent of the survivor has to be gotten and then referred to appropriate agency to provide security, protection and legal services, complete the incident form and document incident.

In each case where a referral is made, a follow up is necessary to ensure that services are provided, and also to ensure client satisfaction and safety.

All members of the organizations that receive the referrals must also be properly oriented on the guiding principles in the SOP for service provision.

Upon receiving initial report of a girl-child or woman who is threatened with FGM, the person who has this information should contact and make referrals to relevant agencies and organization for child protection.

Amongst these relevant agencies and organization for child protection are the State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development (SMWASD), National Human Rights Commission, FIDA, Child Protection Network (CPN), and others. 

These agencies will make sure to abide by the procedures for caring for child survivors and should also utilize the applicable laws in the state to ensure protection of the child.

In the case of a child facing the complications of FGM, the service provider should also follow the steps and guide in the SOP and referral pathway to ensure access to urgent medical intervention.

On documentation, reporting and information management the SOP should adopt a format that will ensure that information on incident is systematically recorded and stored in a safe place.

Organizations who are signed on to this SOP should ensure the following: that their staff members are oriented on how to complete the forms and interact with the survivor in line with the guiding principles.

Actors for this SOP must attend a quarterly review forum to be to review successes, discuss challenges, share lessons learnt and work out the way forward.

There should be annual or bi-annual review of the SOPs. However, the referral pathways will continue to be reviewed as necessary by the actors as necessary to maintain relevance and focus.

In Nigeria, traditional and community leaders are major decision makers whose positions and opinions influence community behavior. Therefore, FGM response and legal services must integrate the actions and perceptions of this social group. Community and religious leaders are able to meaningfully intervene in several ways to reduce the incidence of FGM in Nigeria.

Efforts will be made to educate, sensitize and include community and religious leaders who are FGM champions in the overall FGM response in the state as active actors in the referral pathways.

The Federal and State Governments should ensure that adequate funding is available for anti FGM programmes to disseminate clear and accurate information around the law.

The Nigeria Police Force, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the judiciary need adequate support and training around the law and should be encouraged to apply sentences provided for by the legislation. The increased involvement of local and religious leaders in education around the law, including their responsibilities and the importance of the law in protecting women and girls in their communities, should be encouraged.

Courts could be encouraged to make sure any prosecutions relating to FGM are clearly reported, including by local media such as community radio, and made available in local languages.  

Effective monitoring and collection of data around enforcement and cases of FGM would help to inform strategies and programmes.

Mandatory reporting of instances of FGM by medical staff in hospitals and health centres could be considered. Where they are currently unavailable and a need is identified, appropriate protection measures (for example, emergency telephone lines or safe spaces) should be put in place for girls at risk of FGM.

Laws could be printed and widely distributed in local languages, to make them more widely available to the public, including in forms that can be used in areas of low literacy.  Local community radio and other media channels, including mobile phone technology and social media platforms, should also be considered for dissemination of information on the law in Nigeria.

In Conclusion, I believe that an increased awareness and a simplified referral pathway will make FGM-related services more accessible to the general public.  

To learn more about the @endcuttinggirls Social Media Campaign to end FGM, please visit endcuttinggirls.org and follow our social media handles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, using @endcuttinggirls

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