Nigeria’s Mary Oloiparuni had only just lived out a few months as a teenager when relatives parading themselves as diehard culture custodians began bugging her on the need to get cut down there as traditions demand. Unwilling to have undereducated individuals fumble with her vagina in the name of female circumcision, the 13-year-old had always been evasive of them. But it wasn’t long before she woke up to a team of locals who restrained and pounced on her at the exit of her room, stifled her cries for help, tamed her acrobatic feats, and spread her legs wide open in an experience she’ll never forget.
The narrative that followed sadly remains one of excruciating razor cuts, quack stitches, profuse bleeding, muffled screams, scarring, and the longer-term harrowing experience of childbirth as she matured into motherhood. Another Nigerian victim had recounted staring at her mother with utter hatred as the latter reiterated what she said were the rationales justifying the infliction of such torturous cuts on her private part, leaving her to walk the neighborhood in pains for days, with just an old cloth tied to her waist.
It has been five years since former President Goodluck Jonathan outlawed all forms of female genital cutting with the signing of a landmark federal law, which was projected to be capable of changing the narrative of women in other parts of Africa, where female children still face some form of mutilation as insignia for maintaining virginity ahead of marriage. Anti-FGM movements have also followed, with several international agencies like WHO and UNICEF weighing in to clampdown on the globally abhorred practice.
But, while the prevalence of FGM has decreased tremendously over the years, some countries, regions, or even states in Nigeria still take the lead when talks pertaining to the prevalence of the practice are broached. This is as recent WHO reports estimate that at least 200 million girls alive today have had their genitals mutilated, with treatment costs for addressing the global health impacts running into $1.4 billion USD annually.
Understanding Female Genital Cutting
Subcultures that still practice FGM mostly do so along three lines: clitoridectomy, which involves removing the clitoral hood and part of the clitoris; sunna, where the entire clitoris and part of the inner labia is surgically removed; infibulation, where the clitoris, the inner labia, and the labia majora are cut while the vaginal opening is stitched, leaving just a hole for urination and menstrual flow and preventing intercourse.
While the process is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers without a proper knowledge of human anatomy, the idea is sometimes so the girl’s virginity is preserved until marriage, when the family would then receive a proper bride price or just for family honor. Although some carry out the procedure on account of social pressure, others claim that it increases women’s fertility and ability to procreate.
But contrary to such beliefs, FGM has been shown to have serious implications for the victim’s sexual and reproductive health like childbirth issues, with immediate complications including urine retention and urinary infections, hemorrhage, ulceration, septicemia, and other conditions that might result if the victim survives. Long-term effects have included keloid scar formation, urethra damage causing an inability to contain urine, painful sexual intercourse and hypersensitivity of the genital area, increased HIV risk, and mental health problems.
The Bane: Where Forensic Methodologies Come In
Talks about female genital cuts are highly controversial and have always prompted a re-examination of the social impacts of unconventional medical procedures. Laws have been widely enacted, activists have ranted and raged, national & international agencies have severally embarked on crackdowns, and NGOs have continued to stage enlightenment campaigns in local communities.
Yet, in cases where sanctions have to be meted out to individuals who continue to perpetrate this gross human rights infringement by foiling efforts at discontinuing the inglorious practice, it sometimes becomes difficult to make distinctions between what’s natural and what’s not in a young girl’s pubic area, making it hard to detect FGM and indict perpetrators accordingly.
Globally, many cases have dropped due to lack of adequate evidence and frustration among criminal justice experts after parents denied any involvement in mutilation as the girl child either remembers nothing of the experience or refuses to tell on her parents. This becomes even more complicated with girls reported to have had naturally fused labia.
Pinpointing when FGMs occur can be difficult but cases had been confirmed in Norway between 2007 and 2016 after forensic probes were carried out. With continuously emerging techs and new procedures coming to light in the field, it’s believed that the deploying forensics in the case of Nigeria will present evidence sufficient enough to bring offenders to book — at least for the first time.
By: Stephen Charles Kenechukwu