FGM and the Law in Nigeria

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Courtesy of SIRP Nigeria

Did you know that currently in Nigeria, 20 million women and girls have been mutilated and yet there has been no conviction? In this article we dwelt on the two major reasons for this in Nigeria.  We also looked at the FGM statistic in Nigeria and some of the causes of FGM in Nigeria and the various Legislation against FGM in Nigeria. We also looked at some of the major factors limiting the effectiveness of these Laws. We concluded by bringing out what needs to be done by the Nigeria Government, Donor Agencies, NGOs and of course by anti-FGM campaigners if these laws are to be made effective.

 THE FGM STATISTIC IN NIGERIA

Globally, 200 million women and girls have been mutilated. In Nigeria alone, 20 million women and girls have been mutilated and this figure represents 10% of the global total. What this figure means in essence is that 1 out of every 10 mutilated girl or woman in the world is a Nigerian.

In Nigeria, the zones with the highest FGM prevalence rates are the South West and the South East.

SOME CAUSES OF FGM IN NIGERIA

There are so many reasons why FGM is practiced in Nigeria. It ranges from cultural reasons to its being used to curb illicit sexual appetites of women and girls in the country. But in this article, we will love to dwell on some of the reasons why it is practiced in our home State Enugu.

In Enugu State, FGM is normally done due to the patriarchal system which is obtainable in most communities in the State, which ensures male dominance over women. It is seen as a way in which the male folks subject and impose themselves on women.

Another reason is that FGM is also often considered a religious/cultural obligation e.g. right of passage into adulthood, Female Genital Cutting as part of Naming ceremony etc.

In most communities in Enugu State, FGM is usually carried out on the eight day after birth, to coincide with the child’s naming ceremony, which is a festive event with gifts and refreshments. The naming and cutting are linked. We have also found out that poor mothers could not openly resist their girls undergoing FGM because it would also mean that there is no naming ceremony. All this has helped this practice to thrive in Enugu State.

LEGISLATIONS PROHIBITING FGM IN NIGERIA

Before the passing into law of the Violence Against Person Prohibition Act (VAPP) Act in Nigeria. Most lawyers, NGOs and anti-FGM campaigners in Nigeria were relying on the Nigeria Constitution and on the Child Rights Act (CRA) to speak against FGM in Nigeria. But one sad thing about the two foregoing laws is that it does not explicitly mention FGM as a criminal offence.

N.B It must also be noted at this juncture, that currently 13 States in Nigeria have their own State laws expressly prohibiting FGM. These States includes; Lagos, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Bayelsa, Ogun, Delta, Ebonyi, Oyo, Imo, Edo, Cross-River and Rivers State.

Here are some of the provisions in the Constitution and in The Child Rights Act as relates to FGM though not explicitly;

  1. The Constitution: The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) which is the supreme law of the land provides in Section 34 that “no person shall be subjected to any form of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. FGM indeed falls under the foregoing categories and thus can be punishable under this section.
  2. The Child Rights Act: The Child Rights Act (CRA), which was passed in 2003 in Nigeria also has some provisions that outlaws this practice. Section 11(B) of this Act provides also that “no child shall be subjected to any form of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. However it must be noted that this Act is only applicable in only 23 States plus the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja.

One particular thing you will note from the two foregoing provisions is that there is no mention of FGM. It was because of this fact that most lawyers, NGOs and anti-FGM campaigners in Nigeria rallied round and started to advocate for a Law which will specifically mention FGM as a criminal offence.

It was as a result of this push, that in 2015 under the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration that the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) Act was passed into law. This particular Act specifically mentioned FGM as a criminal act. It also made FGM and other forms of Gender based violence like rape, spousal battery, forceful ejection from home, harmful widowhood practices etc punishable offences in Nigeria. Apart from this, the VAPP Act also made provisions for the maximum protection of victims and also for the effective remedies for victims.

Section 6 of the VAPP Act provides for a set of punishments for FGM. Some of these punishments include;

  1. Anybody who performs or engages another to perform FGM on any person is liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 4 years or to a fine not exceeding N200,000 or to both.
  2. Anybody who attempts, aids, abets, or incites another to carry out FGM is liable to a term not exceeding 2 years imprisonment or to a fine not exceeding N100,000 or to both.

THE LIMITATIONS OF THE VAPP ACT

Three years after the passing into law of the VAPP Act, it is indeed disheartening to note that there has not been a single FGM conviction in Nigeria. The question that keeps agitating our mind is why is this so? In answering this question, we will like to categorize our answer into two major reasons.

  1. The applicability of the VAPP Act: Currently, the VAPP Act is only applicable in Abuja and in Anambra State. What this literally means is that it is only applicable in 1 State out of the 36 States in Nigeria. The reason for this is that only Anambra State has domesticated this Act. Under our system, a Federal Law cannot apply in a particular State unless and until it is domesticated in that particular State.

This lack of domestication of the VAPP Act by several States in Nigeria then brings us to a recent issue which happened in Kwara State, Nigeria.  This issue made global headlines. Just recently in Kwara State, a facebook user from Kwara State called Alhaji Adebayo publicly advertised for a free cutting of girls in Kwara State. This case we heard was duly reported to the police, but up till now he has not been arrested. One major reason, why we think that he has not yet been arrested and duly prosecuted is because of the fact that Kwara State presently has not taken steps to domesticate this Act.

  1. Little or no awareness of this Act in Nigeria: Another major reason limiting the effectiveness of this VAPP Act is the fact that many Nigerians do not know about this Act. Currently in Nigeria, it is estimated that 1 out of every 100 Nigerians know about the existence of this Law in Nigeria. It is also estimated that only 10 out of every 200 Nigerians really know what this Act says or means.

To further buttress this point, we recently conducted a research in Nsukka Local Government Area (LGA) of Enugu State which is one of the 17 Local Government Areas in Enugu State, Nigeria.

The purpose of this study was to determine the level of awareness among Enugu citizens about the VAPP Act 2015. In this particular study, we adopted a descriptive research design. Specifically 3 research questions were posed to guide the study. A multi-staged sampling procedure using simple random sampling technique of balloting without replacement was used. We selected a sample of 210 women accessing various health services in the 35 public primary health facilities in Nsukka.

The instrument for data collection was our self-developed questionnaires. The data collected were analyzed using figures and percentages to answer the research questions. Below are some of the questions we asked them and some of the answers we got from them;

Question 1: Have you ever heard of the VAPP Act?

Yes % No %
10 4.76 200 95.2

After we explained the meaning of this Act to them we then asked them;

Question 2: Do you think that this Law should be domesticated in Enugu State?

Yes % No %
190 90.47 20 9.52

 

From the foregoing, one can see that only 10 women out of the 210 women we gave out these questionnaires to, have heard about the VAPP Act. Also 190 women out of the 210 women, we gave out these questionnaires wanted this Act to be domesticated in Enugu. Those that were against its domestication said that FGM is part of their culture and also that it helps to curb promiscuity among women and as such they are against its domestication in Enugu.

 CONCLUSION

In conclusion, we would really love to state that the onus now falls on the various State Governments in Nigeria, Donor Agencies, NGOs and also on anti-FGM campaigners in various States in Nigeria to push for both the domestication of this Act in their various States and to also raise public awareness of the existence of this Act in their various States.

Also, current advocacy by NGOs and anti-FGM campaigners against FGM in Nigeria should now be centered more on pushing for the domestication of this Act and also in creating more awareness of the existence of the VAPP Act in their various States. We seriously believe, that if we are able to achieve the foregoing it will go a long way in ending FGM in Nigeria by 2030.

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Emmanuel Yegon is an all-round communicator who is passionate about photography, poetry, broadcast journalism and digital strategy. He has worked with top media brands in Kenya and garnered a wealth of experience. He has extensive knowledge of Social Media landscapes, networks and toolsets. He is committed to growth in the field of communication and best practice of journalism. He’s a communication finalist from Moi University.