Section34(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the right to the dignity of the human person. This provision guarantees the right that no person shall be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been identified as a form of violence against women. It is seen as an inhuman act which degrades women.
Female genital mutilation has been defined as an act that ‘comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the female genital organs for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reasons’.
FGM is also referred to as female circumcision. Under the Female Circumcision (Abolition) Law 2001, circumcision means any interference with the natural appearance of the female external genitalia using a blade, knife or any instrument whatsoever in order to bring about either a reduction in the size of the clitoris or a complete removal of the vulva, for cultural or other non- therapeutic reasons and includes-
- Cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissues;
- Scraping of the vagina orifice or cutting of the vagina; or
- Introduction of corrosive substances into the vagina to cause bleeding or herbs into the vagina with the aim of lightning or narrowing the vagina.
In Nigeria, female circumcision is a practice that has its origin in customary law and practices. The false claim made in support of the practice is that it reduces promiscuity in women. No merit has been found to exist in this argument; rather, it has gross health implications for the woman.
It is disheartening that several years after the beginning of the campaign against female circumcision and enlightenment provided on the adverse effects it could have on a woman’s health, reproductive ability and sexual life, quite a number of people still engage in this despicable practice.
Some states have enacted their own laws expressly prohibiting female genital mutilation, and prescribing punishments for a violation of the law.
The Edo State government banned this practice in October 1999. Persons convicted under the law are subject to a
N1, 000.00 fine and imprisonment of six months. While opponents of the practice applaud laws like this as a step in the right direction, they have criticized the imposition of such a small fine and lack of enforcement of the law.
The Ogun, Cross River, Osun, Rivers and Bayelsa States government also banned the practice in 1999.
The Rivers State Female Circumcision (Abolition) Law was brought about in 2001 specifically providing that: ‘Notwithstanding any custom or usage no female shall undergo the practice of circumcision as such practice is abolished and declared unlawful’.
The law also provides stricter penalties than its Edo State counterpart stating that ‘any person who circumcises or allows the circumcision of a female, commits an offence and is liable to a fine of ₦20,000 or to imprisonment for 5 years.’ Criminal liability is not limited to the person who circumcises a female; parents or guardians who present their female children for circumcision or permit their female children to be circumcised are also criminally responsible
A federal law was finally enacted in 2015 which expressly prohibits the circumcision of female children and known as the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act. Section 6 of the Act specifically prohibits the circumcision or genital mutilation of the girl child or woman:
- The circumcision or genital mutilation of the girl child or woman is hereby prohibited.
- A person who performs female circumcision or genital mutilation or engages another to carry out such circumcision or mutilation commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 4 years or to a fine not exceeding
N200,000.00 or both.
- A person who attempts to commit the offence provided for in subsection (2) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding
N100,000.00 or both.
- A person who incites, aids, abets, or counsels another person to commit the offence provided for in subsection (2) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding
N100,000.00 or both.
There are other laws which protect a female against female circumcision and which impose punishment on any person who carries out female circumcision. An example is Section 335 of the Criminal Code Act which provides that ‘any person who unlawfully does grievous harm to another is guilty of a felony and liable to imprisonment for seven years.’ A person is said to cause grievous harm to another when it is proved that:
- The accused by his act caused bodily pain, disease, or infirmity to the complainant;
- That he did so intentionally with the knowledge that it was likely to cause them harm or hurt.
The above are usually present in the female circumcision process.
A victim of female genital mutilation is vested with the right to institute a civil action against the perpetrators of the offence, irrespective of whether criminal prosecution is commenced, undertaken or concluded.
A victim of female genital mutilation can also commence an action for the enforcement of her fundamental right to the dignity of her person, or may have a fundamental rights action instituted on her behalf; this is of importance because most times, the victims of female circumcision are usually children.
Female circumcision is an evil that threatens the health, life and wellbeing of the female populace. It should therefore be vehemently opposed by all well-meaning citizens.