Nigeria: Prevalence of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), including ethnic groups in which FGM/C is prevalent; ability of parents to refuse FGM/C of their daughter; consequences for refusal; state protection and support services (2019–June 2021) [NGA200625.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Societal Attitudes and Prevalence of FGM/C

A December 2020 country information report on Nigeria by the Australian Department Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) states that "[a]lthough illegal and in decline, FGM/C continues to be practised in Nigeria" (Australia 3 Dec. 2020, para. 3.90). The DFAT report also notes that "[c]ultural and societal norms support the continuation of FGM/C in Nigeria" based on "notions of cleanliness or hygiene; prevention of promiscuity; enhancing fertility; marriage prospects and fidelity; fulfilled womanhood; and/or the idea that it protects babies during childbirth" (Australia 3 Dec. 2020, para. 3.92).

According to the most recent Nigerian demographic and health survey, conducted from August to December 2018 by the National Population Commission (NPC) and ICF, the organization responsible for the international Demographic Health Surveys (DHS) Program [1] of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), among women who have heard of FGM/C, 78 percent "believe that female genital mutilation is not required by their religion" and 67 percent "believe that it should not be continued" (NPC of Nigeria and ICF Oct. 2019, 1, 465).

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Campaign Leader of the No-FGM Campaign, a campaign against FGM/C in Akwa Ibom State (The Guardian 6 Feb. 2021a), wrote that

[t]he practice of FGM is a hidden one. There is an express ban on the practice so persons who perpetrate this act do it discreetly. The level of prevalence is measured by how many victims get to speak up and because of this, there are not too many public accounts of FGM available. There are many victims but their unwillingness to speak up accounts for the unavailability of statistics. (No-FGM Campaign 23 May 2021)

According to the 2018 demographic and health survey, 20 percent of women ages 15 to 49 are "circumcised", compared to 25 percent reported in 2013; of women ages 15 to 49 who were circumcised, 86 percent were circumcised before the age of 5, and 5 percent were circumcised at age 15 or older (NPC of Nigeria and ICF Oct. 2019, 465).

The same source provides the following statistics on the percentage of women by age group who have experienced FGM/C:

Age (years) Percentage of women
circumcised
15–19 13.7
20–24 15.9
25–29 18.0
30–34 19.7
35–39 21.9
40–44 26.7
45–49 31.0

(NPC of Nigeria and ICF Oct. 2019, 473)

The 2018 demographic and health survey indicates that 24.2 percent of urban women ages 15 to 49 have been circumcised, compared to 15.6 percent of rural women (NPC of Nigeria and ICF Oct. 2019, 473). The same source provides the following statistics on prevalence of FGM/C by state or territory:

State Percentage of women ages
15–49 circumcised
State Percentage of women ages
15–49 circumcised
Abia 12.2 Katsina 1.4
Federal Capital Territory
of Abuja (FCT-Abuja)
5.1 Kebbi 1.6
Adamawa 0.0 Kogi 1.0
Akwa Ibom 10.2 Kwara 46.0
Anambra 21.4 Lagos 23.7
Bauchi 10.7 Nasarawa 1.8
Bayelsa 6.7 Niger 10.5
Benue 5.3 Ogun 8.2
Borno 2.4 Ondo 43.7
Cross River 11.9 Osun 45.9
Delta 33.7 Oyo 31.1
Ebonyi 53.2 Plateau 3.0
Edo 35.5 Rivers 9.3
Ekiti 57.9 Sokoto 5.4
Enugu 25.3 Taraba 3.9
Gombe 0.1 Yobe 14.2
Imo 61.7 Zamfara 5.3
Jigawa 34.1    
Kaduna 48.8    

(NPC of Nigeria and ICF Oct. 2019, 473–474)

The 2018 demographic and health survey provides the following statistics on the percentage of women by religion who have experienced FGM/C:

Religion Percentage of women ages
15–49 circumcised
Catholic 24.5
Other Christian 19.4
Islam 18.7
Traditionalist 11.9
Other 2.2

(NPC of Nigeria and ICF Oct. 2019, 473)

The 2018 demographic and health survey provides the following statistics on the percentage of women by ethnic group who have experienced FGM/C:

Ethnic group Percentage of women ages
15–49 circumcised
Ekoi 11.6
Fulani 12.6
Hausa 19.7
Ibibio 9.3
Igala 0.9
Igbo 30.7
Ijaw/Izon 6.9
Kanuri/Beriberi 5.6
Tiv 0.8
Yoruba 34.7

(NPC of Nigeria and ICF Oct. 2019, 473)

The 2018 demographic and health survey provides the following statistics on the percentage of women by level of education and of wealth who have experienced FGM/C:

Education Percentage of women ages
15–49 circumcised
No education 17.2
Primary 25.6
Secondary 19.4
More than secondary 19.5
Wealth quintile Percentage of women ages
15–49 circumcised
Lowest 16.4
Second 17.8
Middle 20.0
Fourth 22.6
Highest 20.0

(NPC of Nigeria and ICF Oct. 2019, 474)

The 2018 demographic and health survey provides the following statistics on the percentage of girls ages 0–14 who have experienced FGM/C, as reported by their mother, disaggregated by the mother's level of education and of wealth:

Mother's Education Percentage of girls ages
0–14 circumcised
No education 24.4
Primary 16.7
Secondary 14.1
More than secondary 7.5
Wealth quintile Percentage of girls ages
0–14 circumcised
Lowest 26.6
Second 20.8
Middle 18.8
Fourth 16.4
Highest 9.8

(NPC of Nigeria and ICF Oct. 2019, 478)

2. Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Prevalence of FGM/C and Support Services

A February 2021 Reuters article reports that COVID-19 has led to an increase in reports of cases of FGM/C in Nigeria according to women's rights groups (Reuters 5 Feb. 2021). A September 2020 report by Orchid Project [2] on the impact of COVID-19 on FGM/C indicates that organizations in Abuja have reported an increase in cases of FGM/C in South-West Nigeria "as a result of school closures" (Orchid Project Sept. 2020, 7). The same source notes that "prevention and protection efforts are unavailable" due to COVID-19 social distancing measures and travel restrictions (Orchid Project Sept. 2020, 7). According to the Orchid Project report, civil society organizations in Nigeria have been operating and increasing hotline (see section 6 of this Response) initiatives with one organization in Enugu State reporting "over 2,000 calls" (Orchid Project Sept. 2020, 8). The same source reports that in Enugu State, organizations and members of the community have been providing "informal policing" because "formal policing is overburdened with COVID-19 and unable to provide protection to girls and women at risk" of FGM/C (Orchid Project Sept. 2020, 8). The Orchid Project report further indicates that "[s]ome" shelters in Nigeria have been closed due to COVID-19 "without provision of alternatives for women and girls at risk" of FGM/C and that where shelters are available, they are "seriously hampered" by limited funds and space (Orchid Project Sept. 2020, 8). Additional information on shelters available for girls and women at risk of FGM/C could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3. Decision Regarding FGM/C

A February 2019 European Asylum Support Office (EASO) country information report on Nigeria states that the

final decision whether or not to circumcise their daughter is most often with the parents, but there is a considerable variation both individually and among different ethnic groups [as to] whether it is the father or the mother who makes this decision. The grandparents or the eldest female on the paternal side may also have a decisive role. (EU Feb. 2019, 63)

The same source reports that a "few cases of relatives disregarding the parents' decision and subjecting the girl to FGM/C [have been] reported, although it is considered to be very unusual" (EU Feb. 2019, 63). The DFAT report states that "[t]here are no reports that FGM/C has occurred without the consent of parents" (Australia 3 Dec. 2020, para. 3.93). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Executive Director of the Society for the Improvement of Rural People (SIRP) [3] noted that "Nigeria has a patriarchal socio-cultural value system, in which males are preferred to females" and the practice of FGM/C involves an "unequal power relationship, in which the man takes all critical decisions in the family, including the decision as to whether a female child should be cut" (Executive Director 6 June 2021). The No-FGM Campaign Leader noted that "[i]n the Nigerian society, the fathers have more authority in decision-making than the mothers. In extended families, the family heads have the highest authority and are usually male" (No-FGM Campaign 23 May 2021). The same source, speaking about Akwa Ibom State in southern Nigeria, noted that

[p]arents have the power to make decisions concerning the circumcision of their daughter when they live in cities or semi-urban areas. However, this is not so when they live in close-kni[t] communities in rural areas when FGM is a recognized and mandatory cultural practice in such an area. (No-FGM Campaign 23 May 2021)

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

4. Consequences of Refusing FGM/C
4.1 For the Parents

Information on the consequences for parents of refusing FGM/C was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. The EASO report notes that relatives "may" pressure parents with "threats to withhold support due to their 'wrong' decisions"; however, FGM/C is "considered a 'family issue' and parents are usually not subjected to violence or threats of violence" (EU Feb. 2019, 63). The SIRP Executive Director noted that parents of girls who do not undergo FGM/C "are ostracized and denied social recognition" in their extended family and the community (Executive Director 6 June 2021). The same source noted that this applies across Nigeria but is "more pronounced among the Igbos and Yorubas of the South East and South West Regions of Nigeria" (Executive Director 6 June 2021). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

4.2 For the Girl

Information on the consequences for girls of refusing FGM/C was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. The DFAT report indicates that "[g]irls may be ostracised, shunned or assaulted by their family or community if they have not undergone FGM/C" (Australia 3 Dec. 2020, para. 3.92). The EASO report indicates that there are "concerns that men refuse to marry women who have not been circumcised" (EU Feb. 2019, 63). The No-FGM Campaign leader wrote that in areas in Akwa Ibom State where FGM/C is practiced, girls who have not undergone FGM/C are "perceived as 'not-women-enough', unmarriageable, outcasts and rebels" (No-FGM Campaign 23 May 2021). The SIRP Executive Director stated that girls who do not undergo FGM/C "are perceived as unclean and [are] therefore stigmatized" and are not perceived as "proper and fit" for marriage (Executive Director 6 June 2021).

5. State Protection

The DFAT report states that "[t]he capacity of the government to provide effective protection is limited in some parts of the country, in particular in Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara states" (Australia 3 Dec. 2020, para. 3.93).

A December 2019 WHO press release reports that the Division Head of the Gender, Adolescent/School Health and Elderly Care (GASHE) unit of Nigeria's Federal Ministry of Health stated that "'[t]he revised National Policy on the elimination of FGM (2020 – 2024) has mapped out roles for health workers, health regulatory bodies, professional health associations and other stakeholders to prevent FGM in Nigeria'" (UN 11 Dec. 2019). The same source notes that, according to the Division Head of GASHE, policies to prevent FGM/C include "sensitization and awareness creation," "capacity building of health care workers," and the establishment of surveillance systems to detect the practice of FGM/C among medical professionals (UN 11 Dec. 2019). Further information on the revised National Policy on the elimination of FGM (2020 – 2024) could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

5.1 Legislation

Article 6 of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015 (VAPP Act) provides the following regarding FGM/C:

  1. The circumcision or genital mutilation of the girl child or woman is hereby prohibited.
  2. A person who performs female circumcision or genital mutilation or engages another to carry out such circumcision or mutilation commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 4 years or to a fine not exceeding N200,000.00 [Nigerian Naira (NGN)] [approximately C$585] or both.
  3. A person who attempts to commit the offence provided for in subsection (2) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding N100,000.00 or both.
  4. A person who incites, aids, abets, or counsels another person to commit the offence provided for in subsection (2) of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding N100,000.00 or both. (Nigeria 2015)

5.2 Application and Enforcement of the FGM Ban Under the VAPP Act

A June 2018 report by 28 Too Many [4] notes that laws passed by the federal government must also be adopted and implemented by state governments (28 Too Many June 2018, 2). The same source states that the VAPP Act is a federal law and, as such, is "only effective" in the FCT-Abuja; the other states "must pass mirroring legislation to prohibit FGM across the country" (28 Too Many June 2018, 3). The EASO report indicates that 13 states have adopted "similar laws" (EU Feb. 2019, 62). The DFAT report similarly notes that 13 states had implemented the VAPP Act as of December 2020 (Australia 3 Dec. 2020, para. 3.91). The SIRP Executive Director indicated that 4 of 36 states in Nigeria have adopted the VAPP Act "for implementation" (Executive Director 6 June 2021). A VAPP Tracker maintained by the Rule of Law and Empowerment Initiative (also known as Partners West Africa Nigeria, PWAN) [5] indicates that 23 states in Nigeria have passed the VAPP Act (PWAN [Apr. 2021]). The 28 Too Many report indicates that "some" states have established their own penalties for FGM/C (28 Too Many June 2018, 5).

The December 2019 WHO press release notes that implementation of legislation prohibiting FGM/C "remains low across the states in Nigeria" (UN 11 Dec. 2019). A February 2020 article by the Guardian, a Nigerian newspaper, reports that despite the adoption of the VAPP Act, "there is a still a high record of FGM practice" (The Guardian 6 Feb. 2020). The EASO report notes that although there is federal legislation banning FGM/C and related legislation in "several" Nigerian states, "no legal action to curb the practice" has been reported (EU Feb. 2019, 62). Sources indicate that, in relation to FGM/C, there have been no convictions (No-FGM Campaign 23 May 2021; Executive Director 6 June 2021) or no prosecutions (28 Too Many June 2018, 5; Australia 3 Dec. 2020, para. 3.93). A May 2021 article by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), established by the Government of Nigeria (Devex n.d.), reports that at a workshop on ending FGM/C in Oyo State, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Ibadan stated that there is "inadequate enforcement of laws against FGM" and that in the 13 states that have adopted a law against FGM/C, lack of implementation is a "major issue" (NAN 18 May 2021).

The DFAT report indicates that because family members "are often the perpetrators, reporting rates for FGM/C are low" (Australia 3 Dec. 2020, para. 3.93). The No-FGM Campaign Leader stated that victims of FGM/C "hesitate to report" (No-FGM Campaign 23 May 2021). The 28 Too Many report notes that there is "reluctance" from families to report FGM/C and "risk going to court" (28 Too Many June 2018, 6).

A February 2021 article by the Guardian reports that according to an FGM/C survivor and activist, "'many people'" do not know that the law prohibiting FGM/C exists (The Guardian 6 Feb. 2021b). The 28 Too Many report states that "[t]he details of anti-FGM legislation are not yet widely known" and " many, including local police," do not understand them (28 Too Many June 2018, 6). The same source reports that, according to civil society, there is "a need for local police and judiciary to be sensitised around the anti-FGM legislation" (28 Too Many June 2018, 6). However, the 28 Too Many report indicates that law enforcement officials, including the police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), and Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) have received training in Osun (28 Too Many June 2018, 6).

The No-FGM Campaign Leader indicated that a woman who refuses FGM/C can go to the police for protection and that "[t]he law backs her" (No-FGM Campaign 23 May 2021). The SIRP Executive Director noted that according to the VAPP Act, a woman who refuses to undergo FGM/C can go to the police for protection; however, in practice "the police hardly ever take the issue very serious[ly]" (Executive Director 6 June 2021). The No-FGM Campaign Leader indicated that in cases of extended family conflict because of the refusal of FGM/C, parents can report to the police (No-FGM Campaign 23 May 2021). However, this only applies in states which have adopted the VAPP Act or have laws prohibiting FGM; "[w]here there are none, there might be no protection" (No-FGM Campaign 23 May 2021). The SIRP Executive Director stated that the VAPP Act has a complaint redress mechanism that allows victims, survivors, and parents to "seek redress from law enforcement agencies, particularly the police"; however, there are "no institutional protections, motivations and incentives for parents to undertake this process" (Executive Director 6 June 2021).

6. Examples of Support Services

Sources indicate that Nigerian civil society organizations advocating for ending FGM/C include the following:

  • Value Female Network through their Project Abandon Female Genital Mutilation (UN n.d.);
  • Women Against Violence and Exploitation (WAVE) Foundation (WAVE Foundation n.d.);
  • HACEY Health Initiative through their StopCut Project in the states of Ekiti, Osun and Oyo (HACEY n.d.);
  • No-FGM Campaign in Akwa Ibom State (The Guardian 6 Feb. 2021a);
  • SIRP in Enugu State (Orchid Project Sept. 2020, 9).

According to Orchid Project, SIRP also manages a "hotline reporting on [FGM/C] for girls at risk" in Enugu State (Orchid Project Sept. 2020, 9). Information on the services offered through the hotline could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to its website, WAVE Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Abuja with branches in Osogbo, Kano, Minna and Lagos, offers the following services regarding FGM/C:

Restorative surgery
Counseling,
Prevention & support for at risk girls and survivors
Medications
Advocacy
Pro-bono legal services
Community centre. (WAVE Foundation n.d.)

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.

Notes

[1] The Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) program is "a USAID-funded project providing support and technical assistance in the implementation of population and health surveys in countries worldwide" (NPC of Nigeria and ICF Oct. 2019, ii).

[2] Orchid Project is a UK-based NGO that works with organizations around the world to end the practice of FGM/C (Orchid Project n.d.).

[3] The Society for the Improvement of Rural People (SIRP) is an NGO based in Enugu, Nigeria that is "committed to working with rural people towards poverty alleviation and their overall empowerment" through advocacy, training, research, and projects (SIRP n.d.).

[4] 28 Too Many is a UK-based organization that conducts research on FGM/C and "provide[s] knowledge and tools to those working to end FGM" in Africa and worldwide (28 Too Many n.d.).

[5] The Rule of Law and Empowerment Initiative, also known as Partners West Africa Nigeria (PWAN), is a Nigerian NGO "dedicated to enhancing citizens' participation and improving security governance in Nigeria and West Africa" (PWAN n.d.).

References

28 Too Many. June 2018. Nigeria: The Law and FGM. [Accessed 9 Apr. 2021]

28 Too Many. N.d. "About." [Accessed 26 May 2021]

Australia. 3 December 2020. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). DFAT Country Information Report: Nigeria. [Accessed 4 Apr. 2021]

Devex. N.d. "News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)." [Accessed 2 June 2021]

European Union (EU). February 2019. European Asylum Support Office (EASO). Country Guidance: Nigeria. [Accessed 4 Apr. 2021]

Executive Director, Society for the Improvement of Rural People (SIRP). 6 June 2021. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

The Guardian (Nigeria). 6 February 2021a. Esther Ijewere. "I'm Determined to Stop the Practice of Female Genital Mutilation – Ikanna Okim." [Accessed 28 May 2021]

The Guardian (Nigeria). 6 February 2021b. Tobi Awodipe and Ijeoma Thomas-Odia. "Women Seek End to Female Genital Mutilation Culture in Nigeria." [Accessed 20 May 2021]

The Guardian (Nigeria). 6 February 2020. Adenike Fagbemi. "HACEY Launch 'Stop Cut' Project Against Female Genital Mutilation." [Accessed 20 May 2021]

HACEY Health Initiative (HACEY). N.d. "About the StopCut Project." [Accessed 2 June 2021]

National Population Commission (NPC) of Nigeria and ICF. October 2019. Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2018. [Accessed 20 May 2021]

News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). 18 May 2021. "Stakeholders Call for Enforcement of Laws to Protect Women Against FGM." [Accessed 20 May 2021]

Nigeria. 2015. Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015. [Accessed 20 May 2021]

No-FGM Campaign. 23 May 2021. Correspondence from the Campaign Leader to the Research Directorate.

Orchid Project. September 2020. Impacts of COVID-19 on Female Genital Cutting. [Accessed 4 Apr. 2021]

Orchid Project. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 25 May 2021]

Partners West Africa Nigeria (PWAN). [April 2021]. "VAPP Tracker." [Accessed 26 May 2021]

Partners West Africa Nigeria (PWAN). N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 26 May 2021]

Reuters. 5 February 2021. Nita Bhalla. "COVID Creates 'Fertile Ground' for Genital Cutting in Africa." [Accessed 20 May 2021]

Society for the Improvement of Rural People (SIRP). N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 8 June 2021]

United Nations (UN). 11 December 2019. World Health Organization (WHO). "WHO and Partners Harmonize Government Efforts to Stop Medicalization of Female Genital Mutilation." [Accessed 20 May 2021]

United Nations (UN). N.d. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Action Awards. "Project Abandon Female Genital Mutilation." [Accessed 2 June 2021]

Women Against Violence and Exploitation (WAVE) Foundation. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 2 June 2021]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: 28 Too Many; Africa Youth and Adolescents Network on Population and Development Nigeria; Centre for Women Studies and Intervention; Committee for the Defence of Human Rights Nigeria; Community Health and Research Initiative; Education as a Vaccine; Girls' Power Initiative; HACEY Health Initiative; Nigeria – Federal Ministry of Health; Orchid Project; Population Council – Evidence to End FGM/C: Research to Help Women Thrive, Nigeria Country Office; professor of medical anthropology at a university in Kansas who studies and gender and sexuality in Nigeria; professor of sociology at a Nigerian university who studies development and social issues in Nigeria; Safehaven Development Initiative; UN – EndCuttingGirls Campaign Nigeria, UN Population Fund Nigeria, WHO Nigeria Country Office; Value Female Network; Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre; Women's Aid Collective; Women's Consortium of Nigeria; Women's Health and Action Research Centre; Women's Information Network; Women's Rights and Health Project.

Internet sites, including: ActionAid; African Women's Organization; Amnesty International; The Atlantic; Austria – Federal Office for Immigration and Asylum; BBC; Bertelsmann Stiftung; CARE International; Daily Independent; Daily Trust; Desert Flower Foundation; ecoi.net; Education as a Vaccine; End FGM European Network; Equality Now; Factiva; Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development; France – Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides; Gender & COVID-19; The Girl Generation; Global Health Council; The Guardian (UK); Hope Foundation for African Women; Human Rights Watch; International Center for Research on Women; Ireland – Refugee Documentation Centre; Leadership; The New York Times; Nigeria – Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development; Nigeria Health Watch; Norway – Landinfo; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; Plan International; Population Council – Evidence to End FGM/C: Research to Help Girls and Women Thrive; The Premium Times; The Punch; Save the Children; The Telegraph; This Day; UN – Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Refworld, UN Population Fund; University of Nairobi – Africa Coordinating Centre for the Abandonment of FGM/C; Vanguard; The Washington Post; Women's Consortium of Nigeria; World Bank.