Nigeria: Whether parents can refuse female genital mutilation (FGM) of their daughter; state protection available (2016-October 2018) [NGA106183.FE]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

For general information on FGM in Nigeria, see Response to Information Request NGA105628 of September 2016.

1. Decision Regarding FGM

Sources report that the decision to subject a girl to FGM in Nigeria is up to the girl’s parents (Obianwu et al. Jan. 2018, v; EU June 2017, 40). The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) of the European Union (EU) indicates that there is considerable variation, among both individuals and ethnic groups, regarding whether it is the father or the mother who makes the final decision (EU June 2017, 40). According to sources, in some cases the decision depends on a consensus of both parents (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018; Obianwu et al. Jan. 2018, 16). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a social and medical anthropologist [1] stated that the decision rests mainly with the mother, as well as her mother and sisters (Anthropologist 2 Oct. 2018). Similarly, a representative of the Centre for Women Studies and Intervention (CWSI) [2] indicated, in correspondence with the Research Directorate, that the decision depends “particularly” on mothers, who maintain the ancestral custom, but that in a more traditional home where the woman is seen as unequal to the man and cannot make decisions, the decision will be up to the father instead (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018). A study conducted in four Nigerian states, Delta, Ekiti, Imo and Kaduna, where there is a high prevalence of FGM, for which the results were published in January 2018, indicated that the decision was made by both parents, but that the male head of the household had the last word (Obianwu et al. Jan. 2018, v). However, according to the same study, sometimes men rely on their wife’s opinion (Obianwu et al. Jan. 2018, v-vi).

According to sources, family members other than the parents may be involved in the decision (Anthropologist 2 Oct. 2018; EU June 2017, 41). The January 2018 study indicates that maternal and paternal grandmothers may sometimes be very influential (Obianwu et al. Jan. 2018, 16). The same source reports a case in which a maternal grandmother allegedly took her granddaughter to be cut against the mother’s wishes (Obianwu et al. Jan. 2018, 16-17).

2. Consequences of a Refusal
2.1 For the Parents

A child protection specialist from UNICEF and a representative of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Nigeria, interviewed by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides, OFPRA) during a mission to Nigeria in 2016, responded that parents who refuse to let their daughter be mutilated do not face any consequences, that is, neither retaliation nor threats (France Dec. 2016, 45-46). The anthropologist and the CWSI representative also stated that parents in Nigeria can refuse to have their daughter undergo FGM (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018; Anthropologist 2 Oct. 2018). According to the CWSI representative, even in communities where FGM is prevalent, some parents refuse to have their daughter undergo FGM, especially educated parents (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018). The same source stated that it is a choice that depends on a voluntary acceptance of the cultural practices of the ethnic group: parents who subject their daughter to this practice do so more from a sense of cultural belonging and fear of alienation or denial of communal benefits than through coercion (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018).

The CWSI representative indicated that parents who refuse FGM may suffer some form of social exclusion, especially among their “'age grades'” (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018). The “age grades” are a form of local socializing associations in South East and South-South Nigeria, where participants live by rules they make for themselves and respect ancestral traditions and where refusing FGM could lead to exclusion from group decision making and social and economic activities (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018). In a second correspondence with the Research Directorate, the anthropologist also indicated, when speaking about rural areas, that “threat[s]” against parents who refuse FGM are limited to being “ostracized for a time” or “publicly criticized” (Anthropologist 16 Oct. 2018). The UNICEF representative stated to OFPRA that, even though excision is [translation] “an expectation” in the community, parents will not face social pressure if it does not take place because FGM is considered to be a “'family matter'” (France Dec. 2016, 45).

Sources report that a mother who is opposed to FGM may be criticized (Anthropologist 2 Oct. 2018) or face pressures, particularly from her husband or mother-in-law, who are [translation] “powerful figures in Nigerian families” (France Dec. 2016, 46). A representative of the Girls’ Power Initiative (GPI) [3], interviewed by OFPRA, indicated that the GPI recommends to mothers [translation] “to pretend” that their daughter has been excised to avoid this pressure (France Dec. 2016, 46).

2.2 For the Girl

The anthropologist stated in his first correspondence that, “[i]n most cases,” there would not be any consequences for a girl who does not undergo FGM (Anthropologist 2 Oct. 2018). In his second correspondence, he specified that she might be mocked in school or publicly criticized and ostracized for a time, similarly to her parents (Anthropologist 16 Oct. 2018). Other sources report that she could be stigmatized (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018) or ostracized for it (Australia 9 Mar. 2018, para. 3.47). According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), “[t]he practice is closely tied to concepts of family honour and girls’ marriageability. Girls may be ostracized, shunned or assaulted by their family or community if they have not undergone FGM” (Australia 9 Mar. 2018, para. 3.47). The CWSI representative also explained that, for a girl, not undergoing FGM can result in the widespread refusal of community men to marry her because they believe that uncircumcised females “will be promiscuous,” “unchaste” and “lack family honor” (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018). The UNICEF representative also stated to OFPRA that people believe that an uncut girl will not be able to get married and that she will be promiscuous or even be considered [translation] “'dirty'” and “'wanton'” and that this occurs in “'very isolated rural communities'” (France Dec. 2016, 45). The CWSI representative indicated that uncut girls from more traditional communities are “usually excluded from peer group privileges [and] fraternization” (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018).

For information on the consequences of refusing FGM, particularly in the state of Lagos and among the Edo people, see Request to Information Request NGA105628 of September 2016.

3. State Protection

The CWSI representative, referring to the existing laws, stated that despite deeply rooted traditional practices in Nigeria, parents who refuse FGM and their children can be protected by the state (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018). However, the Australian DFAT reports that it “assesses as credible advice from local sources that it remains extremely difficult for women and girls to obtain protection from FGM” because despite an increase in reports to the police and the NHRC, community support for these practices and the traditional attitude of police help to support them (Australia 9 Mar. 2018, para. 3.49). In his second correspondence, the anthropologist stated that the “threats” that girls and their parents could face, such as criticism, mockery and temporary ostracism “are not things that any state government would pay attention to” (Anthropologist 16 Oct. 2018). He added the following: “In my opinion, the idea that a family would need any outside assistance to maintain good relations (and we are talking about good social relations, not threats) is highly unlikely” (Anthropologist 16 Oct. 2018).

3.1 Legislation and its Application

For information on the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act (VAPP), which prohibits FGM in Nigeria, and on its application, see Response to Information Request NGA105404 of January 2016.

Sources indicate that the VAPP is currently only in effect in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of Abuja (28 Too Many with Trust Law and Latham & Watkins June 2018, 3; US 20 Apr. 2018, 32; UN 24 July 2017, para. 23). According to the CWSI representative, however, it is also applicable in the Anambra, Ebonyi and Oyo states (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Sources indicate that each state in Nigeria must adopt legislation similar to the federal legislation to prohibit FGM in that state (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018; 28 Too Many with Trust Law and Latham & Watkins June 2018, 3; US 20 Apr. 2018, 32). According to 28 Too Many, a charitable organization that conducts research and provides knowledge and tools to those working to end FGM around the world, including in Africa (28 Too Many n.d.), the following states had already enacted anti-FGM legislation prior to the VAPP: Bayelsa, Cross River, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu and Rivers (28 Too Many with Trust Law and Latham & Watkins June 2018, 3). According to the same source, 13 states (mainly in the south) [out of 36] had adopted anti-FGM legislation as of June 2018 (28 Too Many with Trust Law and Latham & Watkins June 2018, 3). According to the blog of a Nigerian defence lawyer of young girls’ rights published on the 28 Too Many site, these states are the following: Lagos, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Bayelsa, Ogun, Delta, Ebonyi, Oyo, Imo, Edo, Cross-River and Rivers (Nnamdi 20 Feb. 2018). According to the CWSI representative, 33 states (with the exceptions of Anambra, Ebonyi and Oyo) have still not adopted legislation similar to the VAPP (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018).

Sources mention that no perpetrators of FGM have been prosecuted in Nigeria and that the Act is not enforced (CWSI 4 Oct. 2018; 28 Too Many with Trust Law and Latham & Watkins June 2018, 5).

The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017 reports the following:

Federal law criminalizes female circumcision or genital mutilation, but the federal government took no legal action to curb the practice. While 12 states banned FGM/C[utting], once a state legislature criminalizes FGM/C, NGOs found they had to convince local authorities that state laws apply in their districts. (US 20 Apr. 2018, 33)

In a status report on laws and FGM in Nigeria published in June 2018, 28 Too Many indicates the following:

The details of anti-FGM legislation are not yet widely known or understood by many, including local police, and the public do not generally have access to the law and justice stakeholders. …

Where information is publicly available, it is not always translated into local languages. Anti-FGM projects are also hampered by a lack of enforcement of the law at the local level and the continuing challenge of violence against women across Nigeria. It is noted that the lack of both reported cases of FGM and information-sharing across the country is due to the reluctance of families to report FGM and risk going to court, and the absence of a centralised information-gathering-and-reporting system. (28 Too Many with Trust Law and Latham & Watkins June 2018, 6)

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


[1] For 40 years, this anthropologist led and directed research on local knowledge in the health field in more than 20 African countries and collaborated with the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) Program as a qualitative research specialist for 16 years (Anthropologist 2 Oct. 2018). The DHS Program is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which helps developing countries collect and use data to follow and assess population, health and nutrition programs (The DHS Program n.d.).

[2] The Centre for Women Studies and Intervention (CWSI) is a “non-governmental, non-religious and non-profit-making organization registered in 1999 with its headquarters in Abuja” that works to empower women and promote gender equality (CWSI n.d.).

[3] The Girls’ Power Initiative (GPI) is a Nigerian feminist organization that works to socialize girls and promote women’s participation in Nigerian society (GPI n.d.).


28 Too Many. N.d. “About Us.” [Accessed 16 Oct. 2018]

28 Too Many with Trust Law and Latham & Watkins. June 2018. Nigeria: The Law and FGM. [Accessed 27 Sept. 2018]

Anthropologist. 16 October 2018. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Anthropologist. 2 October 2018. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Australia. 9 March 2018. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). DFAT Country Information Report: Nigeria. [Accessed 28 Sept. 2018]

Centre for Women Studies and Intervention (CWSI). 4 October 2018. Correspondence from a representative to the Research Directorate.

Centre for Women Studies and Intervention (CWSI). N.d. “About CWSI.” [Accessed 28 Sept. 2018]

The Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) Program. N.d. “Who We Are.” [Accessed 15 Oct. 2018]

European Union (EU). June 2017. European Asylum Support Office (EASO). EASO Country of Origin Information Report: Nigeria Country Focus. [Accessed 28 Sept. 2018]

France. December 2016. Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides (OFPRA). Rapport de mission en République fédérale du Nigéria. [Accessed 28 Sept. 2018]

Girls’ Power Initiative (GPI). N.d. “About Us.” [Accessed 17 Oct. 2018]

Nnamdi, Ugwu Somtochukwu. 20 February 2018. “The Law and FGM in Nigeria.” 28 Too Many. [Accessed 16 Oct. 2018]

Obianwu, Otibho, et al. January 2018. “Understanding Medicalisation of FGM/C: A Qualitative Study of Parents and Health Workers in Nigeria.” Evidence to End FGM/C: Research to Help Women Thrive. New York: Population Council. [Accessed 27 Sept. 2018]

United Nations (UN). 24 July 2017. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Concluding Observations on the Combined Seventh and Eighth Periodic Reports of Nigeria. (CEDAW/C/NGA/CO/7-8) [Accessed 27 Sept. 2018]

United States (US). 20 April 2018. Department of State. “Nigeria.” Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017. [Accessed 28 Sept. 2018]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: International Center for Research on Women, Africa Regional Office; Population Council; professor from a Nigerian university whose research focuses on women and religion; researcher in the sociology department at a Nigerian university whose interests include gender; World Health Organization, Abuja.

Internet sources, including: Amnesty International; Asylum Research Centre; CARE, Nigeria; Dutch Council for Refugees;; Factiva; Freedom House; Human Rights Watch; Nigeria – Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development; Reuters; UK – Home Office; Vanguard.

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