Putting an End to Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation in Africa – Lanre Olagunju

Feminists around the globe need to pick up more wide-ranging issues that would result into better lives and privileges for vulnerable girls. On the scale of priority, I think issues like child marriage; girl-child education and female genital mutilation which reduces the right of a girl child over her body are more sensitive and delicate than many of the discussions feminists are readily concerned with.

Truthfully, ensuring that these issues are constantly being brought to fore will bring lasting solutions to many other degrading practices and injustices that the girl child suffers. One of the absurdities of the present age is that about 14 million girls are still being forced to get married, not only before they are ready, even before their bodies are ready.

On the issue of Female genital mutilation, it might be difficult to undo the damages of genital cutting done to the over 120 million African women and girls who presently have gone through the painful and degrading experience. But statistics has it that about 30 million girls are still at risk of female genital mutilation around the globe, in the next ten years. Realistically that’s where the bulk of the work lies. These innocent ones shouldn’t be allowed to go through needless physical and psychological trauma. FGM is one of the most serious forms of violence against the girl child/woman and till date it is still being practiced in 28 African countries.

It is first of all very important to identify that the practice is harmful to girls and women, not until this fact is registered can corrective measures to curb the practice thrive. The surgical removal of a part of a girl’s vagina (external genitalia) is just a way to control and place limitations on a woman’s sexuality. Some of the identified reasons why the act is carried out include initiation of girls into womanhood, hygiene and aesthetic reasons amongst those who think the external female organ is unclean so they think removing it will increase the vagina’s aesthetic appeal.

In the medical sense, there is no medical benefit to the injurious practice,  however, the act is most times carried out with unsterilized objects that further endanger the health of the girls. As it has been researched, many communities and families only engage in it for cultural and non therapeutic reasons. And in some cases where individuals understand that the practice is of no good, they submit their female child to earn societal acceptance.

This again brings us to why we all need to clamour for the education of the girl child. As we count down to the 2015 deadline of the MDGs, the girl child education should again be at the top of the post 2015 agenda. To achieve any success in this area, it’s very crucial to critically see the girl child’s illiteracy as the foundation via which many archaic practices thrive on. Education will help girls and women speak for themselves, it will help older women to see the reason why practices that are not beneficial should be abandoned.

The essence of sex education cannot also be neglected. When parents and young girls have access to quality sex education which clearly shows how un-needed it is to carry out FGM. When that is done, many of the baseless myths will then be demystified and cleared out. This education should also be targeted at community leaders and other influential individuals, so the knowledge can have ripple effects on their followers. When this is done, one can then hope that the practice will decline.

It will also be quite difficult to exclude the effect of poverty out of this discussion. For example, many of the older women who carry out the cutting have been involved in the business for ages. And that’s the only source of income they have. One can’t neglect the influence such older women have in such poor communities, and coupled with the fact that to them, the practice is their source of livelihood. Putting an end to FGM will require providing another source of livelihood to such influential factors.

The right of the girl child is one that must be respected and protected, and to do that we must stern up legal measures to prohibit the practice of FGM. This will involve collective effort from reproductive health right advocates, donor agencies and all involved in the girl child advocacy to
push governments to come up with stringent laws that frown at
FGM and those who promote early marriage. There should be severe penalties for offenders.

I am @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter.

Lanre Olagunju is an hydrologist turned freelance journalist. He has a degree in hydrology from the University of Agriculture Abeokuta and a professional diploma in journalism from the American College of Journalism. Lanre advocates on several international platforms for the prosperity and absolute well-being of the African continent. He's @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter

The views expressed above are solely that of the author .

The right of the girl child must be respected and protected