In today’s society, there
are still some harmful cultural practices which impede on the rights of the girl child.
Observers say that such practices include Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), otherwise known as female circumcision.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Female Genital Mutilation as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
“It is practised as a cultural ritual by ethnic groups in 27 countries in sub-Saharan and Northeast Africa, and to a lesser extent in Asia, the Middle East and within immigrant communities elsewhere”.
Reports indicate that not less than 140 million women worldwide have been subjected to FGM, while three million girls are at risk each year.
“This practice is an abuse of human rights and it causes serious health complications, including fatal bleeding,’’ says the United Nations (UN) in a report.
The journal of Annals of Medical Health Sciences Research (2012) says that the subjection of girls and women to obscure traditional practices in Nigeria is legendary.
It adds that FGM is an unhealthy traditional practice inflicted on girls and women worldwide which is recognised as a violation of human rights.
“FGM is widely practiced in Nigeria, as the country has the highest absolute number of cases in the world; accounting for about one-quarter of the estimated 115 to 130 million circumcised women worldwide”.
Decrying the dangers of female circumcision, Dr Maureen Ume, a gynaecologist at National Hospital, Abuja, insists that female circumcision is a death trap for women.
According to her, FGM includes procedures which intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
She explains that these procedures can lead to severe bleeding and urinary problems.
“It can also lead to complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths,’’ she adds.
The gynaecologist says that some women or children are exposed to some immediate complications, including bleeding, tetanus infection, urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissues.
“The long-term consequences can include recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility, increased risks of childbirth complications and newborn deaths,” she says.
Ume also notes that some women could experience painful intercourse, thereby requiring surgery in the clitoris.
She says that FGM procedures are mostly carried out on young girls, ranging from months’ old infants to 15-year-old teens, and occasionally on adult women.
She emphasises that FGM has no health benefits, insisting that it harms girls and women in many ways, as it involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissues, while interfering with the natural functions of the victims’ bodies.
“Most of the time, it is done without anaesthesia for a child of that tender age, as the child is exposed to chronic pain and bleeding; sometimes leading to death.
“The woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures of surgery, further increasing and repeating both immediate and long-term risks,’’ Ume says.
The gynaecologist says that the practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as birth attendants.
Ume says that FGM has been recognised internationally as a violation of the fundamental human rights of girls and women.
“It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.
“It is nearly always carried out on minors and it is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity.
“Such rights include the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death,’’ she says.
Ume particularly calls for increased public awareness activities on the dangers of FGM as part of efforts to stop the cruel practice in the country.
Sharing similar sentiments, Dr Rilwanu Mohammed, the Executive Secretary, FCT Primary Health Care Board, says that female circumcision is of four types.
“There is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce; partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora; narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal,’’ he says.
He adds that the fourth type involves all other harmful procedures on the female genitalia such as pricking and piercing.
Mohammed, who frowns at the practice, says that young girls are subjected to circumcision because of the erroneous notion that it “reduces sexual desires, in order to curtail promiscuity and promote virginity before marriage”.
He says that other reasons include promoting social integration and initiation of girls into womanhood.
The executive secretary says that female circumcision could result in Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF).
“Female circumcision is a social problem like HIV; it makes a woman feel inferior and incomplete,” he says.
Mohammed discloses that the FCT Primary Health Care Board has already embarked on a public enlightenment campaign to dissuade the people from engaging in FGM.
“Religious and traditional leaders are being educated on the dangers of female circumcision and we are sure this will help us in our efforts to bring female circumcision to an end,|” he says.
Mohammed, nonetheless, calls on the Federal Government to review the National Policy and Plan of Action on the Elimination of FGM in Nigeria so as to restructure it to be in line with global trends.
With Nigeria having FGM national prevalence rate of 30 per cent, experts say that elimination of female circumcision is crucial to efforts to attain national and international health goals.
“Eliminating FGM will promote gender equality, reduce infant mortality rate, improve maternal health and help control HIV/AIDS in Nigeria,” some of them say.
Besides, the experts say the fight against female circumcision will strengthen calls for the passage of the Violence against Persons Prohibition Bill.
All the same, the WHO says it is committed to the elimination of FGM in the society, adding that it is, therefore, focusing on advocacy, research and guidance for health professionals and health systems.
Sharang is of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)