Enforcing VAPP Act To End Female Genital Mutilation
By odiri uchenunu
According to the National Demographic Health Survey (2013), about 20 million women and girls in Nigeria have undergone Female Genital Mutilation- FGM. This figure represents 10 per cent of the 200 million of women and girls who have undergone FGM globally. In Nigeria, the report indicates that the highest prevalence is in South East and South West zones. The report revealed that 82 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 who had undergone the practice in Nigeria were cut before the age of five and ‘cut/flesh removed’ is the most common type of FGM practiced. Other types of FGM, including Angurya, Gishiri and the use of corrosive substances, are also practiced in some parts of Nigeria. Despite civilization, the practice of FGM, which is often referred to the ritual cutting, or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia, has been a norm in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The implication of such practice on the health of women, according to stakeholders is hazardous. Experts assert that the act is usually very harmful to the health of women since it can lead to urinary tract problems, tetanus infection, severe bleeding, cysts, genital swelling, complications during child births and increased risk of neonatal death. With these negative effects of FGM, the Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Polls (NOIPolls) assessed the views of Nigerians regarding legislation against the practice of FGM. Overwhelming majority (90 per cent) indicated their absolute support for legislation to abolish the practice in the country. On the contrary, 10 percent of the respondents declared firmly that they would not support any legislation to end the practice of female circumcision, saying that they identify with the practice from a socio-cultural perspective and it would amount to them going against their ancestral beliefs if the practice was to be abolished. Indeed, this has engendered the call for full implementation of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, (VAPP Act). Recall that the VAPP Act came into force on 25 May 2015. The Act aims to eliminate gender-based violence in private and public life by criminalising and setting out the punishment for acts including rape (but not spousal rape), incest, domestic violence, stalking, harmful traditional practices and FGM. The VAPP Act states that the performance of FGM or engagement of another to perform FGM carries a punishment of imprisonment not exceeding four years or a fine not exceeding N200, 000, or both. The Act further stated, “Attempting to perform FGM or engaging another to perform FGM carries a punishment of imprisonment not exceeding two years or to a fine not exceeding N100, 000, or both. “Anyone who incites, aids, or counsels another person to perform FGM or engage another to perform FGM is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or to a fine not exceeding N100,000, or both.” Punishments for medical malpractice under the Medical Act (2004), section 16(2) include being struck off the relevant professional register or suspension from practice for a period not exceeding six months. The National Health Act (2014) also stated that a person who commits an offense regarding the removal of tissue will be punished under section 48(3)(a) with a fine of N1 million or imprisonment of not less than two years, or both. While the VAPP Act is only effective in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and Anambra State, it is heartwarming to know that more states in Nigeria have set up their own penalties for FGM. As at last year, 13 states in Nigeria have laws expressly prohibiting FGM. These states are: Lagos, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Bayelsa, Ogun, Delta, Ebonyi, Oyo, Imo, Edo, Cross River and Rivers. For instance, Cross Rivers state Law called ‘The Girl-Child Marriages and Female Circumcision (Prohibition) Law 2000’ provides in section 4, that any person who performs FGM, offers herself for FGM, coerces, entices or induces another to undergo FGM or allows any female who is either a daughter or ward to undergo FGM is liable on conviction to a fine of not less than N10, 000 or to imprisonment not exceeding two years for a first offender and to imprisonment not exceeding three years without an option of fine for each subsequent offence. Following the introduction of the VAPP Act, Ebonyi state stipulates a five-year prison sentence for anyone who carries out FGM. In Edo state, the Prohibition of FGM Law (1999) sets out the penalty for performing FGM as not less than three years’ imprisonment or a fine of not less than N3, 000, or both. In Rivers state, the Child Rights Act (2009), section 25, stipulates that any person who directly or indirectly causes a female child to be subjected to FGM is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N50, 000 or imprisonment for a term of one year, or both. Nevertheless, for Nigeria to totally eradicate the practice by 2020, stakeholders are calling on medical practitioners, state and local government officials, federal and state ministries of health, traditional rulers, indigenous healthcare attendants, Non-Governmental Organisation (NGOs), Community Based Organisations (CBOs), Faith Based Organization’s (FBOs) and the general public to push for both the domestication of VAPP Act in their various States and to raise public awareness of the existence of the Act in their various state. A member of the Society for the Improvement of Rural People (SIRP), Barrister Ugwu Nnamdi said three years after the passing into law of the VAPP Act; it is disheartening to note that there has not been a single FGM conviction in Nigeria. The reason, according to Nnamdi is that the VAPP Act is only applicable in Abuja and in Anambra state. “What this literally means is that it is only applicable in one state out of the 36 states in Nigeria. Only Anambra has domesticated this Act, as at 2018. “Another major reason limiting the effectiveness of VAPP Act is the fact that many Nigerians do not know about this Act. Currently in Nigeria, it is estimated that only one out of every 100 Nigerians know about the existence of this law in Nigeria. It is also estimated that only 10 out of every 200 Nigerians really know what this Act says or means,” he added. While stressing the need for more states to domesticate the VAPP Act, Nnamdi underscored the need for all stakeholders in the health sector to create more awareness on FGM in Nigeria. But the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole said, “The medicalisation of the FGM in Nigeria is actually shocking. Nigeria bears at least 10 per cent of the burden of the FGM globally. “Out of 200 million women with the FGM, Nigeria accounts for 20million. 25 per cent in Nigeria have the FGM that is really very shocking to hear, therefore the FGM is a human rights problem.” The minister who was represented by Dr Kayode Afolabi, Director, Head of the Reproductive Health, Ministry of Health at an event said the involvement of medical personnel in the promotion of the FGM under whatever disguise was unacceptable. “I was also shocked to realize that 12.7 per cent of the FGM is actually done by health professionals in Nigeria. To me, it is unacceptable that medical personal are enticed to it because it helps their pockets, but that is not a justification,” he added. Adewole said the federal government has been working with partners to address the issue at all levels by developing clinical protocol on how to manage and sensitize health professionals against medicalisation of the FGM, adding that with the ongoing efforts, the FGM would soon be eradicated.