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AN ASSESSMENT OF FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION IN NIGERIA

Abstract

Nigeria, due to its large population, has the highest absolute number of female genital mutilation (FGM) worldwide, accounting for about one-quarter of the estimated 115–130 million circumcised women in the world. The objective of this review is to ascertain the current status of FGM in Nigeria. Pertinent literature on FGM retrieved from internet services [Google search on FGM in Nigeria, www.online Nigeria, PubMed of the national library of medicine www.medconsumer. Info/tropics/fgm.htm, Biomedcentral and African Journal Online (AJOL) (FGM)] and textbooks, journals, and selected references for proper understanding of the topic was included in this review. The national prevalence rate of FGM is 41% among adult women. Evidence abound that the prevalence of FGM is declining. The ongoing drive to eradicate FGM is tackled by World Health Organization, United Nations International Children Emergency Fund, Federation of International Obstetrics and Gynecology (FIGO), African Union, The economic commission for Africa, and many women organizations. However, there is no federal law banning FGM in Nigeria. There is need to eradicate FGM in Nigeria. Education of the general public at all levels with emphasis on the dangers and undesirability of FGM is paramount.Keywords: Female genital cutting, Female genital mutilation, Harmful traditional practice, NigeriaGo to:

Introduction

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as all procedures which involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and/or injury to the female genital organs, whether for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reasons.[1] In Nigeria, subjection of girls and women to obscure traditional practices is legendary.[2] FGM is an unhealthy traditional practice inflicted on girls and women worldwide. FGM is widely recognized as a violation of human rights, which is deeply rooted in cultural beliefs and perceptions over decades and generations with no easy task for change.

Though FGM is practiced in more than 28 countries in Africa and a few scattered communities worldwide, its burden is seen in Nigeria, Egypt, Mali, Eritrea, Sudan, Central African Republic, and northern part of Ghana where it has been an old traditional and cultural practice of various ethnic groups.[2,3] The highest prevalence rates are found in Somalia and Djibouti where FGM is virtually universal.[2]

FGM is widely practiced in Nigeria, and with its large population, Nigeria has the highest absolute number of cases of FGM in the world, accounting for about one-quarter of the estimated 115–130 million circumcised women worldwide.[2] In Nigeria, FGM has the highest prevalence in the south-south (77%) (among adult women), followed by the south east (68%) and south west (65%), but practiced on a smaller scale in the north, paradoxically tending to in a more extreme form.[2,4] Nigeria has a population of 150 million people with the women population forming 52%.[4] The national prevalence rate of FGM is 41% among adult women. Prevalence rates progressively decline in the young age groups and 37% of circumcised women do not want FGM to continue.[2] 61% of women who do not want FGM said it was a bad harmful tradition and 22% said it was against religion. Other reasons cited were medical complications (22%), painful personal experience (10%), and the view that FGM is against the dignity of women (10%).[2] However, there is still considerable support for the practice in areas where it is deeply rooted in local tradition.[2] The aim of this review was to ascertain the current status of FGM in Nigeria.Go to:

Materials and Methods

Pertinent literature on FGM was retrieved from internet services [Google search on FGM in Nigeria, www.online Nigeria, PubMed of the National Library of Medicine www.medconsumer. Info/tropics/fgm.htm, Biomedcentral and African Journal Online (AJOL) (FGM)] and textbooks, journals, and selected references for proper understanding of the topic was included in this review.

Origin and significance

FGM is a practice whose origin and significance is shrouded in secrecy, uncertainty, and confusion.[3] The origin of FGM is fraught with controversy either as an initiation ceremony of young girls into womanhood or to ensure virginity and curb promiscuity, or to protect female modesty and chastity.[5] The ritual has been so widespread that it could not have risen from a single origin.[3,6,7]

Types/variation of FGM in Nigeria

FGM practiced in Nigeria is classified into four types[8] as follows. Clitoridectomy or Type I (the least severe form of the practice): It involves the removal of the prepuce or the hood of the clitoris and all or part of the clitoris. In Nigeria, this usually involves excision of only a part of the clitoris. Type II or “sunna” is a more severe practice that involves the removal of the clitoris along with partial or total excision of the labia minora. Type I and Type II are more widespread but less harmful compared to Type III. Type III (infibulation) is the most severe form of FGM. It involves the removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and adjacent medial part of the labia majora and the stitching of the vaginal orifice, leaving an opening of the size of a pin head to allow for menstrual flow or urine. Type IV or other unclassified types recognized by include introcision and gishiri cuts, pricking, piercing, or incision of the clitoris and/or labia, scraping and/or cutting of the vagina (angrya cuts), stretching the clitoris and/or labia, cauterization, the introduction of corrosive substances and herbs in the vagina, and other forms.

In Nigeria, of the six largest ethnic groups, the Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Ibo, Ijaw, and Kanuri, only the Fulani do not practice any form.[9]

FGM varies from country to country, tribes, religion, and from one state and cultural setting to another, and no continent in the world has been exempted.[3] In most parts of Nigeria, it is carried out at a very young age (minors) and there is no possibility of the individual’s consent.[6] Type I and Type II are more widespread and less harmful compared to Type III and Type IV. In Nigeria, there is greater prevalence of Type I excision in the south, with extreme forms of FGM prevalent in the North. Practice of FGM has no relationship with religion. Muslims and Christians practice it, but it is more widely spread in Christian predominated parts of Nigeria.[2]

FGM and women’s rights

FGM is recognized worldwide as a fundamental violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It involves violation of rights of the children and violation of a person’s right to health, security, and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death. Furthermore, girls usually undergo the practice without their informed consent, depriving them of the opportunity to make independent decision about their bodies.

Reasons to justify FGM

The respondents gave reasons for FGM. They regarded FGM as a tribal traditional practice (our custom is a good tradition and has to be protected), as a superstitious belief practiced for preservation of chastity and purification,[10] family honor, hygiene, esthetic reasons, protection of virginity and prevention of promiscuity, modification of sociosexual attitudes (countering failure of a woman to attain orgasm), increasing sexual pleasure of husband, enhancing fertility and increasing matrimonial opportunities. Other reasons are to prevent mother and child from dying during childbirth and for legal reasons (one cannot inherit property if not circumcised).[11] In some parts of Nigeria, the cut edges of the external genitalia are smeared with secretions from a snail footpad with the belief that the snail being a slow animal would influence the circumcised girl to “go slow” with sexual activities in future.[12] However, FGM is often routinely performed as an integral part of social conformity and in line with community identity.[3]

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