Friday 12th April 2019 was a day of joy for all UNICEF State partners working to end Harmful practices like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Imo state, as well as Mrs. Vivian Chinyere Nnorom from Ebenator-Ekwe Community, Isu Local Government Area of Imo State, Nigeria, whose 8th day old baby girl was rescued from undergoing Female Genital Mutilation on that day.

Based on information from the community on what was about to happen to the female baby, a UNICEF Partners State Team rushed down to the Umukundu, Umuduruewuru Village, in Ebenator-Ekwe community to meet the family.  The team members were Mr. Vitus Ekeocha, State Director, National Orientation Agency (NOA); Imo State; Mr. Chigozie Ojiaku, UNICEF Desk Officer NOA; Mrs. Blessing Azubuike, Child Right Officer, Imo State Ministry of Gender Affairs and Social Development; Mr. Benjamin Mbakwem, UNICEF FGM Consultant of Imo State/Ebonyi and Felxfame Enisire, Imo State Team Lead UNICEF Endcuttinggirls Campaign.

When the Team arrived at the Nnorom family compound, they were warmly received by the 10 members of the extended family led by the Family Head Chief Anthony Akanuo.  This was followed by a formal introduction of the team and the family members before the leader of the delegation, Mr. Vitus Ekeocha, State Director of NOA, informed the family of the purpose of the visit.  The Team members explain the harmful effects of FGM, informed them that the practice violates some basic Human Rights principles, and also reminded them of the new anti-FGM legislation which was signed into law by the government of Imo State on 30th March 2017.  To clear their misunderstanding about the Biblical injunction concerning circumcision of men, the Family Head was asked to read Genesis 17 Vs. 10 to 14 from his Bible to convince him that Christianity does not support FGM.  Other family members asked some questions about FGM, and admitted to seeing the harmful consequences. 

After the dialogue, the Team gave the family a factsheet on basicfacts about FGM and a copy of the Imo State FGM (Prohibition) Law, 2017 (whichprescribes a jail term of 14yrs in prison or fine of N250, 000 or both for offenders.) After the meeting, the Family head, Chief Anthony Akanuo assured the UNICEF Imo State Partners that the new baby girl, and any other female child baby born into their family, will not be subjected to FGM.  He admitted that, while he supported FGM the mother of the baby was against the practice and they had been arguing about it. He thanked the team for educating their family, and also accepted the Team’s request to become an EndFGM Advocate in his community.  He promised to inform other family heads about our visit.  The Team also gave them handbills on FGM, and promotional materials (hand fan and baby bips) that are branded with messages about FGM.  The Family Head and the mother of the baby girl also made individual declarations that FGM to support the campaign to end FGM by taking a picture with the campaign frame of the UNICEF-supported Endcuttinggirls Social Media Campaign to end FGM in Nigeria. The Team also took a group photograph with Mrs. Vivian Chinyere Nnorom, her baby and the Family Head.

After the meeting the Team visited the Traditional Ruler of Ebenator-Ekwe Community, His Royal Highness Eze Alphonsus Nwokeforo.  Unfortunately he was absent. Therefore the Team met with his brother and informed him of the outcome of the visit to the Nnorom’s family.  The Team gave him basicfacts about Female Genital Mutilation, as well as a copy the Imo State FGM (Prohibition) Law, 2017.  They also promised to come and speak to the community members about FGM, if the Traditional Ruler can mobilize the community.  

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as Female Genital Cutting or female circumcision, is defined by The World Health Organization (WHO) as “all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or any other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM is classifies into four broad types, namely, Type I (Clitoridectomy); Type II (excision), Type III (infibulation) and Type IV (unclassified).  The four types are practiced in Imo State, in including 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 (Type IV).  FGM is a harmful practice, and the removal of or damage to healthy genital tissue interferes with the natural functioning of the body and may cause severe immediate and long-term negative health consequences.

In societies where FGM is practiced, it is a socially upheld behavioural rule. Families and individuals continue to perform FGM because they believe that their community expects them to do so. Families further expect that if they do not respect the social rule, they will suffer social consequences such as derision, marginalization and loss of status.  While FGM is de facto violent, it is not intended as an act of violence. It is considered to be a necessary step to enable girls to become women and to be accepted, together with the rest of the family, by the social group of which they are part.

In Imo State, FGM is usually carried out in infancy, mainly on the 8th day after birth. Since in 2014, when the UNFPA/UNICEF Joint Programme (UNJP) to eliminate FGM in Nigeria commenced, UNICEF has been supporting social norms change interventions in nine focal LGAs in Imo State, namely (Ngor-Okpala, Oguta, Ohaji/Egbema, Ikeduru, Ihitte-Uboma, Ehime Mbano, Ideato North, Owerri West, and Owerri Municipal). These interventions, being delivered in partnership with government agencies and civil society organisations, include mapping community structures as platforms to drive the community engagements, public fora/community dialogues on FGM abandonment, training of FGM Community Champions (FCCs) to conduct small group discussions, as well as establishing a state-level and LGA-level coordination structures, called the State and LGA Technical Committees on FGM. 

The UNJP has made significant progress in Imo State.  First, the data from 2016-2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) indicates that the FGM prevalence rate for women aged 15-49years dropped from 58.4% (2011 MICS) to 51.6% (2017 MICS) while that of girls aged 0-14years dropped from 33.4% (2011 data) to 22.2% (2017 MICS)  in Imo State.  Second, the enactment of Imo State Female Genital Mutilation (Prohibition) Law, 2017 has provided the legal framework for the campaign to eliminate FGM in Imo State.  Third, the people of Ngor Okpala LGA organised a Public Declaration of their decision to abandon FGM on 21st November 2018 at the Local Government Headquarters, Umuneke.  This is the first Public Declaration of the Abandonment of FGM in Imo State, more are expected in 2019.   

A key lesson learned from this rescue mission is the importance of establishing local monitoring Teams of EndFGM Advocates in every community. This Team will visit any family where a female child is delivered and remind them not to subject her to FGM.  Right now, please join the Imo State UNICEF partners to celebrate the successful rescue on the baby from the knife!

Felxfame Enisire, Imo State Team Lead UNICEF Endcuttinggirls Campaign