Mrs. Rita Chris, 48, has always had recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections (UTI) but the reason according to her, is not far-fetched.
Narrating her sad experience while she was five with a traditional circumciser who used a razor blade to remove her external female genitalia, she said: “Forgiving the village woman who did the circumcision for the many pains she has caused me is really hard.”
Remembering vividly, Mrs. Chris said, the procedure was carried out in her old family house in the village, even as her mother watched from a corner. Though, many years gone by, the experience still leaves an emotional trauma difficult to forget.
Controversial as it seems, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision is still being practised in many parts of Nigeria and UNICEF reports that more than 30 million girls are at risk of being subjected to it over the next decade.
Reasons for this cruel ritual cutting of girls genitals include a mix of cultural, religious and social: preservation of traditional values, prevention of promiscuity, initiation of girls into womanhood, protection of virginity before marriage, attenuation of sexual desire in the female, maintenance of chastity and fertility during marriage.
But the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) deputy executive director, Geeta Rao Gupta, describes it as “a violation of a girl’s rights to health, well-being and self-determination.”
FGM or female circumcision practised 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; is typically carried out, with or without anaesthesia, by a traditional circumciser using a knife or razor.
In the 2013 report by the UNICEF, FGM prevalence in Nigeria among affected women is 27 per cent.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), such procedure can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth increased risk of newborn deaths.
Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.
While the long-term consequences include: recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility, an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths; and at times the need for later surgeries.
For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks.
The joint guidelines, produced by the Royal Colleges of Midwives, Nursing and Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, say health professionals should identify girls at risk of FGM as early as possible.
The report reads: “Every woman from a practising community who books for maternity care should be asked in a sensitive manner about FGM, and the discussion recorded.
It says: “Girls born to mothers who have had FGM should be considered at risk of significant harm. They require monitoring through the child protection system.”
In Africa, more than three million girls have been estimated to be at risk for FGM annually.
UNICEF reports that, more than 125 million girls and women alive today had undergone a procedure now opposed by the majority in countries where it was practised.
In its 2013 report, FGM is concentrated in Somalia (98 per cent of women affected), Guinea (96 per cent), Djibouti (93 per cent), Egypt (91 per cent), Eritrea (89 per cent), Mali (89 per cent), Sierra Leone (88 per cent), Sudan (88 per cent), Gambia (76 per cent), Burkina Faso (76 per cent), Ethiopia (74 per cent), Mauritania (69 per cent), Liberia (66 per cent), Guinea-Bissau (50 per cent), Chad (44 per cent), Côte d’Ivoire (38 per cent), Kenya (27 per cent), Nigeria (27 per cent), Senegal (26 per cent), Central African Republic (24 per cent), Yemen (23 per cent), United Republic of Tanzania (15 per cent), Benin (13 per cent), Iraq (8 per cent), Ghana (4 per cent), Togo (4 per cent), Niger (2 per cent), Cameroon (1 per cent), and Uganda (1 per cent).
Despite that Lagos, Osun, Ondo, Ogun, Ekiti, Bayelsa, Edo, Cross-River and Rivers States have enacted FGM laws; implementation of these laws still remains a huge challenge.
UNICEF survey found that support for FGM was declining amongst both men and women.
The study, which pulled together 20 years of data from the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where FGM is still practised, found girls were less likely to be cut than they were some 30 years ago.
They were three times less likely than their mothers to have been cut in Kenya and Tanzania, and rates had dropped by almost half in Benin, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria.
But FGM remains almost universal in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt and there was little discernible decline in Chad, Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Sudan or Yemen, the study found.
“The challenge now is to let girls and women, boys and men speak out loudly and clearly and announce they want this harmful practice abandoned,” said Ms Rao Gupta.
The report recommends opening up the practice to greater public scrutiny so that entrenched social attitudes to it can be challenged.
FGM, also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision, is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) 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 typically carried out, with or without anaesthesia, by a traditional circumciser using a knife or razor. The age of the girls varies from weeks after birth to puberty; in half the countries for which figures were available in 2013, most girls were cut before the age of five.
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