THE UN Population Fund (UNFPA) says in its 2020 State of World Population (SWOP) Report that millions of girls around the globe are subjected to practices that harm physically, emotionally and even psychologically.
It states that the disheartening aspect of it all is that the harrowing experiences are meted out to them with the full knowledge of their parents.
UNFPA as a body, determined to restore the feminine dignity of the girl aimed at giving her protection, is consistently calling for action against all forms of violence against women and girls, hence the campaign against Gender Based Violence (GBV) and Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs).
Different persons have made various suggestions on the way forward. While some demonstrate
solidarity with UNFPA’s position, some called for stiffer punishment for perpetrators of GBV and HTPs to serve as deterrent to others.
Overtime, sexual violence against girls, especially rape, has been prevalent in many parts of the
country because of either the lack of political will to checkmate it or the silence conspiracy.
Millions of girls have encountered sexual violations without speaking out due to fear of stigmatisation, cultural and negative societal interpretation.
Rape, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), HTPs, child marriage and a plethora of forced sexual advances remain a threat to the fundamental rights of some women and girls.
A survey by Positive Action for Treatment Access (PATA), a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), states that “over 31.4 per cent of girls in Nigeria said their first sexual encounter had been rape or forced sex of some kind.”
Responding to the survey, Mr Nelson Udunna, a graduate of University of Benin, described the recent rape and murder of Miss Vera Omozuwa, a 22-year old 100 level Microbiology student of his alumnus in a Church as the true trauma being experienced almost everyday by some Nigerian girls.
Udunna, however, commended the Nigerian senate for passing the Sexual Harassment Bill designed to stop sexual abuse of female undergraduate’s in tertiary institutions in the country.
The bill, sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege and 106 other senators, could be seen as well deserving and a step in the right direction, considering the level of sexual assaults being perpetrated in universities.
The bill has 27 clauses, proposing up to 14 years jail term with minimum of five years without an option of fine for one who commits sexual offence in tertiary institution.
In practical terms, the bill identified sexual offences to include grabbing, hugging, kissing, rubbing, touching, pinching the breasts or hair or lips or hips or buttocks or any other sensual part of the body.
Dr Ejike Oji, the Chairman, Technical Management Team (TMC) Association for the Advancement of Family Planning (AAFP), says that legislation, public education and community engagement are imperative.
Oji emphasised the need for continuous mass education to end sexual violations against the girl child and women.
He identified FGM, rape and other forms of sexual assaults as elements of dehumanisation against the female gender, hence the need to end it.
According to him, Nigeria has moved forward, and the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act is meant to address the anomalies.
The medical practitioner, therefore, called for domestication of the Act in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory to effectively address sexual assaults.
He explained that some married men also forcefully have sex with their wives when the women were not ready, “especially during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“So, we should be ready for unwanted pregnancies because of the pandemic.
“We should also be ready to offer medical assistance to the victims after COVID-19 to avoid unsafe abortions.”
Dr Natalia Kanem, the Executive Director, UNFPA, who identified FGM, child marriage and
bias against daughters in favour of sons as widespread, said such practices were capable of causing profound and lasting trauma, and rob girls of their rights to reach their full potential.
She called for improved efforts toward fighting sexual assaults because of the current global health
emergency — the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Juliet Ofor of Federal Medical Centre, Jabi, Abuja, defined FGM as the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
She said “it is not erroneous to state that FGM is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
“As a form of harmful traditional practice, FGM reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.
“Many girls are subjected to untold sexual violations with the full consent of their parents who misplace it with good intentions.”
She explained that parents who engaged in the practice thought they were doing it with good intentions — like protecting the girls from promiscuity or infidelity, “but the girl is maimed profoundly with enduring stigma.
“FGM is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, as well as the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
“It has been scientifically proven that FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways, involving the removal of healthy and normal female genital tissue and interfering with the natural functions of girls.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also done a lot in the eradication of HTPs and GBV in Nigeria.
The world body also provided guidelines for the management and prevention of such practices in 2016, and enlightened health workers on the need to do away with the acts.
Continuous education of the masses on the harmful cultural practices with no health benefits will help in its eradication.
Health workers can as well organise programmes on the effects of FGM in rural areas where it is seen as a cultural right, using local languages and citing examples of the complications.
Women empowerment and financial independence are also very important in the eradication of harmful practices, while male support and promotion of the rights of the girl-child will also contribute to its eradication.
There is also the need to involve community and religious leaders in target population to disabuse their minds on harmful traditional practice and hence abolish the practices.
– Jul. 16, 2020 @ 08:37 GMT