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Does Nigeria have more cases of female genital mutilation than most other countries?

This article is more than 2 years old

Nigeria has one of the highest rates of female genital mutilation (FGM), a national daily reported the country’s minister for women affairs, Pauline Tallen as saying.

Punch newspaper said Tallen was speaking in October 2021 at an event to raise awareness about FGM and cancer in the capital Abuja where she said the government would “abolish harmful traditional practices” against women.  

Tallen further reportedly said: “In spite of government and partners’ positive interventions, high and community-level advocacy, capacity building of circumcisers, including the provision of alternate income for circumcisers, FGM practice persists in our society.”

More education through advocacy on the health danger posed on girls and women by the practice of FGM was needed, the minster said.

Where does Nigeria rank for this practice?

WHO: FGM violates human rights

Africa Check’s efforts to get a recording of the minister’s remarks were unfruitful at publishing time. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation as all procedures that involve the removal of or injury to the external female genitalia for non-medical purposes.

The global health body describes FGM as a violation of the human rights of girls and women and a form of extreme discrimination against women.

FGM is illegal in Nigeria and the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act signed into law by former president Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 stipulates a jail term of up to four years or a N200,000 (US$486) fine for offenders.

FGM still practiced but rate dropping

Despite being outlawed, the practice persists. The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey estimated a 20% prevalence of FGM among women aged 15 to 49.

The survey asked 26,705 women across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones whether they had gone through some form of genital mutilation or cutting. 

The 2018 survey’s finding was higher than the 18.4% reported in the 2016/17 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey. (Read our previous fact check on sexual and reproductive health in Nigeria here.)

When compared to other countries, data from the United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) shows Nigeria ranks 18th of the 20 countries where the practice of female genital mutilation is most prevalent.

Somalia is ranked highest at 99%. Guinea is next, with a prevalence rate of 95%, and Djibouti third, with a rate of 94%.

Yemen is the only non-African country listed in this grim top 20, ranking 19th.

FGM must be discouraged

The continued practice of FGM placed the victims at significant health risk, Nathaniel Adewole, a consultant obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, told Africa Check.

“There is a risk of excessive bleeding, infection, and transmission of some diseases because the same tools are used for different people,” Adewole said. Psychological trauma was also a risk.

He advised that religious and traditional leaders be recruited into educational campaigns so that the people understood the dangers of FGM.

“The law should also be implemented to discourage the continued practice of female genital mutilation,” Adewole said.

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