Though it appears Africa is winning the war over diseases that are posing great threats to the survival, development, protection and participation of the child, as obtainable in other climes, female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) still poses a huge challenge.
Recent happenings in the country show that the African child, especially the girl-child, is still subjected to some out-dated practices and traditions that threaten their right to development, protection and ultimately survival.
This is an unbridled contravention of the international Child Rights Act adopted by Nigeria in 2003 to domesticate the convention on the Rights of the child. Despite the fact that some states have passed it into law, it is still a daunting task fighting FGM/C in the Southwest.
In February 2016, the First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, launched a national campaign to end FGM/C, imploring all parties to work together to halt the harmful practice. Though government intervention underlines the need for collective action, very little is done in this regard.
National statistics reveal that 27 per cent of Nigerian women between the ages of 15 and 49 are victims of FGM/C. And though the prevalence has decreased in some parts of the country in the last 30 years, not in Ondo and Oyo States.
The issue was, however, once more brought to public consciousness, when last December, a middle-aged woman and mother of two, Mrs. Oluwakemisola Falade, passionately cried out for help.
Falade, who lives in Ifira, Akoko South East council of Ondo State, was threatened with banishment by community youths and leaders for her refusal to allow a forcible circumcision of her two daughters.
The disagreement with family elders, she recounted, started when her first daughter, who was born in 2008 clocked four and relatives reminded her of the cultural practice, which must be undertaken between the ages of six months and 10 years.
She was summoned to a meeting by family elders in September last year and instructed to prepare her daughters for the custom by December.
“Much as we tried to educate and convince the elders and youths, our explanations fell on deaf ears, as they refused our request for our daughters to be exempted from the cultural practice,” she recalled.
The Akoko community, despite international outcries against the cultural practice, threatened to attack and banish them, subjecting the victims to serial abuses and dehumanisation.
Out of despair, the couple had no option than to concede to the community’s demands, though they knew it was an abuse of their daughters, womanhood and humanity at large.
The parents of the five- and nine-year-old girls yielded to communal pressure last month because the appeal to the state government, Ministry of Women Affairs, CSOs and other humanitarians to come to their rescue was not heeded.
Scholars and activists have insisted that a cultural shift is needed to abolish the scourge, premising their advocacy on data from 2004 to 2015 for women aged 15 to 49 years with 64 per cent zero tolerance.
Similarly, in Lagelu Local Government Area of Oyo State that same year, one Mr. Isaac Oluwatope Oluwabamishe and his wife had a harrowing experience with their extended family, who vowed to wipe off the entire family through diabolical means for not circumcising their daughter.
Oluwabamishe, the father of Joanna, who lived at Road 2, House 7, Liberty Estate, Olorunda Aba Road, Akobo, narrated his ordeal to The Guardian in April 2017, when the incident assumed a dangerous dimension.
According to him, the family reminded him of the custom of circumcision, when Joanna was born in November 2015. Oluwabamishe, who was a banker with a new generation bank, said the custom stipulates that every girl-child must be circumcised between ages of three months and two years.
He explained that every attempt and persuasion employed at dissuading the family members from the archaic practice met with stiff resistance. He was summoned to a council of elders’ meeting in January 2017 for the purpose.
Showing our correspondent the life-threatening letter written to warn him for the fifth time on April 17, 2017 by the head of the family, Mr. Olisa Olotu, he said they admonished him to align with the tradition or face grievous consequences like a kinsman who disobeyed some 49 years ago.
The letter read: “I am using this medium to warn you about your refusal to circumcise your daughter. This is the fifth time we are warning you on this issue. I believe you know our family tradition, as laid down by our ancestors; and we are telling you emphatically that no civilization can change our tradition.
“Your forebears who defied the tradition of our fathers paid dearly with their children, who came down with terrible ailments. This is why I am imploring you to change your stance on this issue and submit your daughter for circumcision due to the love I have for you. And this must be done immediately before your daughter clocks two years.
“If you refuse to heed our demand before your first daughter clocks two years in November, 2017, we will initiate the family rituals and invoke the spirit of our ancestors against you, your wife and daughter; and you know the repercussions.
“You can confirm this from your brother, Damilola, who lost his wife and daughter before he ran away from home because he refused to obey the family tradition like you are doing now. This is the candid warning of the entire family to you.”
Leading the battle against FGM/C in Nigeria, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), condemned people’s conservative attitude in propagating the menace, urging collective efforts to end it in the country.
The UNICEF Communication Officer, Lagos, Mrs. Blessing Ejiofor, in the build-up to mark the 2017 International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM/C, explained that it comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other cutting of or injury to the female genital organs.
Saying there is a zero tolerance against it globally, as it is harmful to girls and women, she described FGM/C as a violation of human rights causing infertility, maternal death, infections and loss of sexual pleasure.
The UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Mr. Mohamed Fall, said: “Every study and every bit of evidence we have shows there is absolutely no benefit in mutilating or cutting any girl or woman for non-medical reasons. It is a practice that can cause severe physical and psychological harm.
“It violates a woman’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and even in some cases, the right to life.”
According to UNICEF, five states in Nigeria have high rates of FGM/C that are more than 60 per cent, with Osun and Ebonyi leading at 77 and 74 per cent respectively, according to the 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey.
Fall added that the other states are Ekiti, 72 per cent; Imo, 68 per cent and Oyo, 66 per cent. He explained that UNICEF is partnering other stakeholders to stop the menace.
“Support is growing for the national campaign to end FGM/C. With the support of state governors’ wives, Imo and Oyo State Houses of Assembly are currently working on draft bills that will prohibit the practice of FGM/C and any custom or tradition promoting it,” he said.
The National President of Inter-Africa Committee (IAC), the Nigerian chapter campaigning against Harmful Traditional Practices, including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C), Prof. Modupe Onadeko, also kicked against the practice.
“Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) often result in premature death of girls and women, as well as leave many physically, medically, psychologically and emotionally damaged for life,” she said. “To my knowledge and experience, and I have been in this for 26 years, there is no good thing that can be gained from mutilating girls and women.”
Onadeko lamented that the prevalence of FMG/C also results in marital crises, as the victims “are often frigid and cannot respond well during sexual intercourse with their husbands. In fact, this may be the reason many husbands get frustrated and seek solace and sexual satisfaction elsewhere outside their homes.”
She stated that the average national prevalence rate is 41 per cent, but reiterated, “our ultimate goal is to get it to zero level, that is, no girl or woman should ever be subjected to female genital mutilation.”
The Executive Director of Girl to Women Research Development Centre (G2W), Mrs. Olamide Falana, attributed it to ignorance and negative cultural practice threatening the lives of over 10 million girls and women in the country.
She said: “Africans generally hold the belief that partial or total cutting of the female genitalia will dissuade acts of promiscuity. However, research has shown that the mutilation of the female genitalia does not affect sexual behaviours positively.”