IRELAND/NIGERIA: Nigerian Report Contradicts FGM Claims Of Diplomat

THE NIGERIAN government told a UN committee last year that the prevalence rate of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the country was 32 per cent, and that in some regions the figure was as high as 65 per cent.

This contradicts remarks by the Nigerian ambassador to Ireland this week that FGM was a “non-existent issue” in her country.

Insisting that asylum seeker Pamela Izevbekhai and her two daughters were safe to return to Nigeria, Kemafo Nonyerem Chikwe said: “FGM happens to be an ancient practice that is no longer in the consciousness of Nigerians. It is something that is completely insignificant in the present Nigerian culture.”

However, in response to queries last May from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Nigerian government cited the findings of a survey carried out by its own National Bureau of Statistics in 2006.

“The findings revealed that 32.6 per cent was the prevalence rate of FGM in Nigeria. Surprisingly, the rate was higher in the urban (40.0 per cent) than in the rural areas (29.0 per cent) of the country,” the submission from the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development said.

“It was also higher in the southern than in the northern states. While the South-South, South-West and South-East recorded 46.7 per cent, 65 per cent and 58.3 per cent respectively, the North-Central, North-West and North-East recorded 14.5 per cent, 2.0 per cent and 1.7 per cent respectively.”

Stressing its commitment to promote and protect women’s rights, the Nigerian authorities pointed to several initiatives taken towards eliminating female circumcision. These included the passing of legislation in 11 states to prohibit the practice and training on prevention for nurse tutors.

The report also mentioned that since 2004 the ministry of health had marked the annual “FGM Day”, while information campaigns had increased public awareness of the issue.

Despite this commitment a separate report sent to the UN committee in October 2006 noted that the government’s aspirations that all citizens be treated as equal under the law were “limited in fulfilment” because of the complexity of the Nigerian legal system.

“Even where statutory laws exist to outlaw some of these inimical customary and religious practices, practical experience and evidence abound that enforcement level is negligible,” it said, referring to practices such as early marriage, FGM and widowhood rites.

In its concluding observations, issued in July 2008, the UN committee noted the “continued high incidence of FGM in some areas of the country” and urged the government to prohibit the practice.

A separate report published in 2007 by the World Health Organisation found that FGM was “widespread” in Nigeria, and varied from one state to another. This was challenged by Ms Chikwe, who said that the Nigerian government had initiated an investigation into those who had carried out the research for what she described as incorrect reports.

“I am advising that the World Health Organisation revisit this issue,” she said.

Amnesty International’s Irish section yesterday reiterated its view that Nigeria cannot protect girls from genital mutilation. “This is clear from the Nigerian government’s own statements to the UN in 2006 and again in 2008,” said Colm O’Gorman, its executive director. “The claim that genital mutilation is not a problem in Nigeria, or that the Nigerian state can protect girls from it, is absolutely false.”

Pamela Izevbkehai’s battle against deportation was thrown into uncertainty after she admitted that documents used in a series of legal challenges had been forged. The case is scheduled for the Supreme Court tomorrow.


AUTHOR: Ruadhan MacCormaic

URL: Click here

DATE: 20/04/2009

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