Legal Nigeria


As legal practitioners, we must confront the deeply entrenched practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a harmful tradition that manipulates, alters, or removes external sexual organs in young girls and women. This misguided practice, devoid of any proven medical benefits, is often carried out in the name of premarital virginity and marital fidelity. However, the stark reality reveals that the consequences far surpass any perceived benefits, leading to severe physiological, social, and psychological complications.

The physiological repercussions encompass excruciating pain, cysts, haemorrhaging, keloid scar tissue, life-threatening childbirth complications, pain during sexual intercourse, reduced sexual pleasure, increased risks of infections (staphylococcus infections, urinary tract infections, HIV, Chlamydia trachomatis, Clostridium tetani, herpes simplex virus), and even death. The psychological toll includes PTSD, anxiety, shame, depression, and psychoses, significantly impacting the mental well-being of survivors. Social consequences compound the suffering, manifesting as low self-esteem and a loss of self-identity.

Legal Framework and Enforcement Challenges:
On the international stage, human rights instruments categorically condemn FGM as a violation of fundamental rights. Instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Maputo Protocol underscore the need for comprehensive measures to eradicate this harmful practice.

In Nigeria, the Violence Against Persons Act, specifically Section 6, rightly prohibits and criminalises Female Genital Mutilation. However, despite this legal backing, enforcement remains hindered by factors such as a lack of interest from enforcement agencies, non-reportage by victims, community unawareness of the adverse effects, deeply ingrained cultural norms, and the perceived benefits of ensuring virginity and reducing infidelity.

The Role of Lawyers
As legal practitioners, we play a pivotal role in the fight against FGM. While the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), the African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) and the NBA Women Forum have made commendable efforts, there is a pressing need for increased advocacy and education within communities. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) at the National and Branch levels must create platforms and engage practitioners to raise awareness, educate communities, and ensure the effective enforcement of laws against FGM.

Call to Action
This International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM serves as a call to action for legal practitioners. Beyond our legal practice, we must actively engage with communities, dispel myths, and emphasise the legal consequences of FGM. By educating the public and collaborating with organisations like FIDA and AWLA, we can collectively address the root causes of non-compliance with the law and work towards eradicating this harmful practice.

In the eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), lawyers are the torchbearers of change. Let us unite to break the chains of cultural norms that perpetuate FGM, leveraging our legal expertise to educate, advocate, and enforce laws that protect the physical and mental well-being of countless women and girls.

The time for decisive action against FGM is NOW.

Joyce Oduah FICMC
Principal Partner, Joyce & Okey Oduah LP
Immd. Past General Secretary, Nigerian Bar Association
Vice President West Africa, PALU
Council Member, Commonwealth Lawyers Association
Former Council Member, IBA