By Joseph Igwe, President (CRACO)
Female genital mutilation (FGM) or female genital cutting, (also known as female circumcision or excision) refers to a number of traditional operations which involve cutting away part or all of a girl’s external genitalia or other injury to the female genitals. The origin of this practice is shrouded in mystery and it is complex as well as ancient. The historical root appears to date back to ancient Egypt. The wide spread ethnic distribution of circumcision as a ritual and the quite widely preferred early use of stone knife rather than a metal one suggest the great antiquity of the operation.
Recognition of the harmful effects of female circumcision (physically, psychologically, and human right consequences) has led to the use of the term “Female Genital Mutilation”.
Female genital mutilation is known to be practiced in one form or another in twenty eight nations in African continent, (including Nigeria), in a few countries on the Arab Peninsula, among some minority communities in Asia, and North America.
This is the most severe form of FGM. Here, the entire clitoris, Labia Manora and most portion of the Labia majora are pressed/sewn together leaving only a tiny opening.
This practice continues to date with the genitalia of newly born girl children and even older ones being mutilated despite efforts by various NGOs to discourage it.
The harrowing pains and psychological trauma that accompany this practice is inexplicable. Apart from the pains, there is also high risks of getting infected with diseases in the process, thereby leading to complication which may later lead to infertility or death. In August 2007, a 13year old Egyptian girl died from complications that resulted from FGM, making the Egyptian Government to ban the practice. Only God knows how effective the ban will be, since that was not the first time the Egyptian government was banning such practice. In 1995, the Ministry of Health imposed a ban on the practice, yet the practice remained prevalent. This is due to the much religious attachment given to such life devastating practice in Egypt, where the Grand Sherikh of Cairo declared it a duty for all women.
REASONS WHY PEOPLE PRACTICE FEMALE CIRCUMCISION
1. SEXUAL REASONS (Psychological reasons): It has been adduced that female circumcision curbs female sexual desires, however, it has been severally proved that female genital mutilation does not curb promiscuity, rather it enhances it because woman whose clitoris has been severed is said not to easily get satisfied sexually and so would want to try other man who could satisfy her sexual yearnings.
- SOCIOLOGICAL REASONS: It is used as an initiation for girls into womanhood, social integration and the maintenance of social cohesion. In most regions where it is practiced, most men refuse to marry a woman who has not undergone female circumcision. To be circumcised therefore means to have access to status or a voice and relevance in such communities.
- HYGIENE AND AESTHETIC REASONS: It is practiced because it is believed that the female genitalia are dirty and unsightly, and hence need to be tidied up.
- HEALTH REASONS: It is practiced in the belief that it enhances fertility and child survival.
- CULTURAL REASONS: It is practiced in some communities as a culture which any female that refuses to undergo it attracts upon herself the wrath of the gods of the land. Thus, it is believed that such female might die mysteriously or during child birth.
- RELIGIONS REASONS: It is practiced in the mistaken belief that female genital mutilation or female genital cutting is a religious requirement.
FGM is performed in various communities at various stages in the life of girl children or women. It is performed:
- During infancy, when a baby is unaware of what is being done to her body.
- Adolescence, when a girl child is fully grown and aware of it; and
The formal betrothal of a girl.
It has also been reported that it is performed in some communities on the dead because it is believed that an uncircumcised woman would not gain entry into the kingdom of God. This goes to show how much seriousness some communities attach to this obnoxious practice. Because of a lot of myths surrounding this practice in most communities, most people, even the educated ones who are expected to know better, are also involved in this practice, mostly out of fear of the unknown.
The story by a 37 years old Lady who was circumcised at the age of 23 will help us understand further why this practice continues despite much campaign against it by various NGO’s, and legislative measures by various governments:
“where I come from, traditionally, circumcision is done for young girls between the ages of 12-15 years. But in my own case, I was born and brought up in Lagos. My parents are City people and, so, they didn’t really take it seriously while we were growing up. But, you know that it is difficult for one person to be an Island unto himself, unless you are going to severe all links with other members of your family. And we still had links with the village. All my parent’s relatives and village and even in Laogs, were into it. They were all practicing it by doing it for their children. It used to be done with real fanfare.
They would celebrate with a little party, at least, depending on the purse of the person being initiated. And, often time, we had the opportunity to attend such parties and rejoice with them.
But, as we grew older, we became the subject of discussion in many homes. Many of our parents’ friends would even come to our house to offer them advice on what they perceive we were doing wrong. The problem was that, as adult girls, our parents had never thought of initiating us. Our parents had continued year after year, to make promises to their families and friends which they never fulfilled. So, as we grew into marriageable ages, they were always making fun of my mother. At their villages or club meetings here in Lagos, they would tease her that she was not yet a real mother, and that we are not real girls because we had not been initiated like our mates.
Unfortunately for my parents, they had nine of us children, just two boys, and seven girls. Perhaps, the reality of the whole thing did not really dawn on my parents, but they were forced to think about it when my younger sister got pregnant. The tradition is that the head of the newborn baby must not pass through a birth carnal that had not been circumcised. If it does, the woman will surely lose her life. The clitoris is also said to be very powerful, capable of killing the newborn baby, if it does not kill the mother first. So you can imagine the pandemonium that broke out in our house when my younger sister was discovered to be pregnant. The fear of what we had been hearing of all these years just swept over everyone, and before we knew it, we were scrambling over each other to get circumcised. It was not that my parents suddenly now believed in it, but you know what fear can do to one. It was pure fear of the unknown. Is it true? A question nobody could help us answer at the time” 
It is therefore obvious from this story that one of the reasons for the practice of FGM in most communities today is because of a lot of myths surrounding the practices which raise a lot of questions. All most people need is a convincing answer to these questions surrounding the traditional practice of FGM within their community.
The lady who narrated this story surrendered her body to be mutilated because nobody could answer her questions concerning the various stories she had heard as regards the traditional practice of FGM in her community. It is obvious that all members of her community both the educated and the non-educated had all been bewitched with these false traditional belief, and because of the fear of the unknown, they were all scrambling to be circumcised. If the lady in this story earlier had the enlightenment and education she has today, she would not have been a victim of FGM. This is why the need for mass enlightenment and education through campaign and various other means cannot be under estimated.
FGM AND RELIGION
One of the reasons adduced for this obnoxious practice is religion. It is believed to be a fulfillment of religious requirement.
However, the truth is that neither the Christian religion nor the Islamic religion advocates for female circumcision.
Though circumcision was instructed by God in both holy bible and the holy Koran, but there is nowhere, either in the bible or the Koran where God instructed any person to carry out circumcision on female children. The instruction was only given in regard to male children alone. Circumcision of male Jewish babies on the eighth day after birth represents part of Abraham’s covenant with God. Circumcision thus became obligatory for all male converts to Judaism:
This is my covenant, which ye shall keep,
between me and you and thy seed after thee;
every male child among you shall be circumcised.
Abraham being the father of the Jewish/Christian religions (through Isaac) as well as the father of the Islamic religion (through Ishmael), thus circumcised both Ishmael and Isaac on the thirteenth and eighth day of their births respectively. This originated the practice of circumcision in both Islamic and Christian/Jewish religions, which is today suffering gross abuse by its extension to the girl child which is completely outside God’s instruction.
CONSEQUENCES OF FGM
Female Genital Mutilation has serious health consequences for girl children and women. It can result in death through severe bleeding leading to hemorrhagic shock, neurogenic shock as a result of pain and trauma, severe, overwhelming infection and septicemia. If is routinely traumatic. Many girls enter a state of shock induced by the severe pain, psychological trauma and exhaustion from the mutilation.
The AU charter specifically provides
“state parties to the present charter shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate harmful social and cultural practices affecting the welfare, dignity, normal growth and development of the child and in particular:
- those customs and practices prejudicial to the health of the child; and
- those customs and practices discriminatory to the child on the grounds of sex or other status.
People must therefore be educated on the irrelevance and health consequences (both immediate and long term) of this obnoxious practice. There is need for concerted efforts to eradicate the practice of FGM in the entire world, especially in the continent of Africa. The women, the legislators, the media and health care providers, governmental and non-governmental organizations, traditional and religious leaders etc, should stand up against the practice of FGM within their communities. This can be achieved through advocacy by both men and women groups, through educating the masses and organizing mass literacy programmes, through legislative and administrative measures, through appropriate health programmes and curricular for formal education, through conducting research on effective reforms especially finding alternatives to female genital mutilation with regard to communities where it is practiced sociologically, that is, as initiation into adulthood and acceptance into the community. There are certainly other ways adolescents could go through these ceremonies without necessarily involving them in this mutilation.
Other harmful effects include:
failure to heal, abscess formation, excessive growth of scar, tissue, urinary track infection, painful sexual intercourse, increased susceptibility to HIV/AIDS, hepatilis and other blood diseases, reproductive tract infection, pelvic inflammatory diseases, infertility, painful menstruation, chronic urinary track obstruction/bladder stones, urinary incontinence, obstruction of labour, increased risk of bleeding and infection during child birth, phobia for sex, keloid and cyst formation around the genilalia.
Female genital mutilation is a fundamental violation of the rights of girls. It is discriminatory and violate the rights to equal opportunities, health, freedom from violence, injury, abuse, torture and cruel or inhuman and degrading treatment, protection from harmful traditional practices, and to make decisions concerning reproduction. These rights are protected in both the convention on the right of the child (CRC) and the AU Charter on the right and welfare of the child, including the Nigerian Child Rights Act (CRA) 2003.
 The New Encyclopedia Britannica Vol.3, Fifteenth edition (1988) page 327.
 Karungari 2002 (Dr. (Mrs.) Nonye M. Onuzulike in her article in the book “Education, Healthy Living and national Development” page 160
 Myers et al 1985
 Vanguard Newspaper, July 17 2007, page 47.
 Unicef, 2003.
 Article XXIV. Paragraph 3; Article XXXVI(a)
 Article 1(a)