Daily Trust

Family’s 14-year struggle against female circumcision

The struggle against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) continues to defy efforts by rights groups, even as the trend continues to spread across local communities in Nigeria. Many antagonists of the practice believe its prevalence is aided largely by traditional beliefs and practices.

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The problems associated with traditional female circumcision aptly captures the travails of one Mrs. Gbe (not full name) in her struggle to defy the tradition foisted on her by her in-laws. 

Mrs. Gbe, as Daily Trust learnt, faced a hard time preventing her 11-year-old daughter from undergoing the outlawed FGM, but which is still being practiced by her in-laws who hail from Edo State in the South South.

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Mrs. Gbe, who hails from the East, met her husband, Mere, in 2004. However, their relationship met with stiff opposition from Mere’s immediate and extended families, who insisted that Mrs. Gbe must undergo a traditional ritual which would be rounded up with her being circumcised before her bride price would be paid.

They explained that every female member of the family; either by birth or marriage, had undergone the ritual, hence the high rate of fertility in their marriages.

While the male family members also have to undergo their own rituals, the female circumcision ritual, which will see the cutting off of certain parts of the vagina by the local herbalist using crude implements and local herbs, is the climax of the exercise.

Mrs. Gbe refused this proposal and had the backing of Mere. His family, nevertheless, insisted that he would only be allowed to marry her upon the completion of the ritual. This stand-off continued till sometime in 2006 when she became pregnant. All pleas to have the traditional marriage fell on deaf ears as his family was determined to circumcise her. She eventually had their first child – a girl in November 2006 – this opened another chapter of woes for her and Mere.

Since it was a female, Mrs. Gbe was requested to bring her for circumcision before she clocked one year. She also resisted this request, and of course, it opened another round of trouble for her.

It was learnt that Mere’s kindred were emphatic and categorical in their demand for their granddaughter to be circumcised. They further emphasised that nothing in this world would stop that from happening, except death. 

Mere and his wife did not take seriously to this threat until on the morning of June 12, 2007, when mother and daughter were returning from a routine immunisation and they were viciously attacked.

It was learnt that Mrs. Gbe, who was driving alone with the baby strapped on the car seat were double-crossed by a black Mercedes Benz car on their way home. She received a massive blow to the head and passed out instantly. However, the assailants couldn’t make away with the baby as their effort was ruined by two young men who were driving past. They fought the assailants to a standstill and rescued the baby.

On realising the failure of the operation, the assailants ran away. This afforded the good Samaritans the opportunity to evacuate Mrs. Gbe to the hospital.

The woman, in her 40s, who narrated her ordeal to our correspondent, said, “I was in a coma for two days and thereafter spent two weeks in the intensive care of a private hospital. I spent a total of six weeks in the hospital and made sufficient recovery before I was discharged. A report of the incident was made to the police who pledged to investigate and bring the perpetrators to book. Nothing was ever heard from them.” 

She said her husband’s family was boasting that the attack occurred as a result of her refusal to proceed with the circumcision.

“I was told the incident happened because of my stubbornness,” she said, adding that at this point their demand for the ritual became heightened.

Following the mounting threats, Mere relocated his young family to Abuja in November 2007. When the baby clocked one year, he took his wife to the marriage registry where they formalised their union.

However, the threats to his wife and baby resurfaced from members of their Community Development Association (CDA) resident in Abuja. They insisted that Mere must take his wife and daughter back home for the circumcision to avoid bringing calamities on their community.

“We thought Abuja was a safe haven, but we were wrong. Then we headed for Jos, the Plateau State capital, in 2010, and lived in a quiet community in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area among the Berom people who are predominantly farmers,” she said.

In Plateau, they had more kids, established a farm business and built a home until killer herdsmen attacked their community on the night of June 23, 2018, prompting Mere and his wife to escape.

They joined their neighbours and ran for about one hour until they reached the Nghar Yelwa area and ran into a mosque where the imam shielded them from the attackers till security agents arrived in the morning of June 24, 2018. On returning to their community, they discovered that all their property was destroyed and so they decided to relocate to Abuja, again.

On arriving Abuja, they were once more greeted with the demand to go back home and carry out the circumcision on Mrs. Gbe and her daughters. In fact, the first daughter will clock 12 years in November 2018 and they have been given that date as the final deadline to go back to their village and carry out the exercise. They were further warned that refusal to do so would result in the death of Mere or his wife or any of the children.

“I have reached out to various Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) for assistance, but none yielded positive response,” lamented Mrs. Gbe who has now relocated abroad with her family.

A close friend of Mrs. Gbe, who spoke with our correspondent, said, “Despite the existence of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Law in Nigeria, it is heartbreaking to note that this issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is still prevalent in the country. The law which seeks to prohibit female circumcision or genital mutilation, forceful ejection from home and harmful widowhood practices, prohibits forced isolation, depriving persons of their liberty, economic abuse, incest, separation from family and friends, substance attack and indecent exposure, among others. 

“However, the existence of this law has not deterred its practice in most local communities in Nigeria.”

Experts say lack of enforcement has militated against the practicability of the law and further encouraged the practice, which is still on the increase despite the ban three years ago. This has resulted in the deaths of some children who were subjected to FGM. The practice is of alarming proportion in Ondo State, prompting an advocacy group, Movement for the Survival of the Underprivileged (MOSUP), to rise in defence of the victims.

Executive Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, in a chat with our correspondent, decried the failure of the country to curb FGM despite the existing law. 

She said, “For example, as we speak, 11 states: Edo, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ebonyi, Rivers, Delta, Ogun, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti and Oyo enacted laws banning FGM. Also, the Child Rights Law has been passed in 26 states. But lack of political will has hampered the implementation processes. The failure to implement has allowed legitimisation of cultural practices.

“For WARDC, we have focused on grassroots mobilisation to change attitudes and mindsets, we have para-legal communities where we educate and inform people about the implications of FGM. Therefore, government should take positive steps to ensure that this vice stops by putting in place systems that can address FGM not only as an unlawful act, but as a social and development crisis.