National Human Rights Commission, (NHRC) in partnership with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Education As A Vaccine (EVA), on 13th and 14th December, 2023 in Owerri, organized a two day training workshop for stakeholders in Imo state.

The workshop, with the theme, “Access to Justice for the Prosecution of Female Genital Mutilation”, had participants from the Judiciary, Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons, Nigerian Bar Association, National Orientation Agency, Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, FIDA, Ministry of Health and others in attendance.

In his address presented by the Deputy Director, Research, Human Rights Institute, Ngozi Okore, the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Chief Tony Ojukwu OFR, SAN, FCArb, noted that access to justice is a basic principle of the rule of law, as it is anchored on rules and procedures to be used by citizens to approach the courts for the determination of their civil rights and obligations.

He said the right to privacy of women and girl-child is violated when their genitals are mutilated with or without their consent.

He said that Nigeria is yet to make appreciable progress in some states in the efforts to reduce the menace of FGM to the barest minimum, emphasizing the need for more collective efforts to fight against the scourge.

In her presentation entitled, “FGM:- A violation of Human Rights”, the Deputy Director, Research, National Human Rights Institute, Mrs. Ngozi Okore defined Female Genital Mutilation  (FGM) as a term used to describe a wide range of traditional practices that involves partial or total removal of external female genital for cultural, religious and social reasons.

She noted that the most common types of FGM practiced in Nigeria are type 1 (Clitoridectomy) and type II (excision) and to a lesser extent type III (infibulation) and type IV (unclassified).

“About 100-140 million infants, girl child and women undergo the operation every year. That is about 6,000 per day or one in every 15 seconds. This practice most often takes place in rural areas by untrained village midwives who use unsterilized instruments”, Okore explained, while adding that FGM is a violation of human rights of the female child and woman.

Delivering a lecture on; “LITIGATING HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS/ABUSES IN COURT; LEGAL AND PROCEDURAL ISSUES/CHALLENGES”, Assistant Chief Legal Officer, NHRC, Imo State Barr Ikechukwu Ironali inferred that the efforts to tackle Human Rights abuses which are prevalent in the African region especially in Nigeria had received a boost due to the recent introduction of the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rule of 2009, adding that through the various procedures, the ugly scourge of Female Genital Mutilation eating deep into society could be brought to its minimum and eradicated.

Also delivering a lecture on “IMPLICATION OF THE LAWS ON FGM AND ENFORCEMENT PROCESSES IN THE HIGH COURT, PRINCIPLES, PROCESSES AND PROCEDURES”, Senior Legal Officer, NHRC, Imo State, Okoroji Ihunanyachukwu said the VAPP Act now domesticated in Imo State as the VAPP law 2021 aims to eliminate gender based violence from private and public life by criminalizing and setting out punishment for acts such as rape, spousal battery, female genital mutilation, denial of inheritance, abandonment of spouse, children and dependents, forceful eviction, incest, defilement, stalking and harmful traditional practices.

“Section 9(1) of the VAPP law of Imo State provides that any form of genital mutilation of the girl child or woman is prohibited”, she noted, while submitting that by adhering to the laid-down principles, processes, and procedures, Imo could strengthen its enforcement of FGM under the VAPP, hold perpetrators accountable, and protect girls from the harmful practice.

Speaking on the topic, PROSECUTING FGM: COURT CRAFT, PRESENTATION SKILLS AND TECHNIQUES, LEGAL AND PROCEDURE ISSUES ETC, Barr. Florence Nwokennaya stated that a prosecutor may be engaged in investigations to guide an investigating officer on the legal aspects to be covered during investigations.

She stressed that a prosecutor could offer advice to the investigation officers on the following: “(i) Collection, handling and preservation of evidence (ii) Aspects of inquiry to be covered (iii) Admissibility of evidence (iv) Identification of victims and the witnesses that require protection and making the relevant applications to ensure their protection (v) Possible offences to charge (vi) Evidential and legal consequences of investigative methods, e.g. search and seizures, the conduct of an identification parade and recording confessions (vii) Potential need for expert evidence (viii) Identification and arrest of the suspect (ix) Consideration of bail and bond (x) Possible legal applications (interlocutory, miscellaneous applications)”.

Participants at the two-day workshop including Hon. Justice Innocent Njaka, Hon. Justice V. Isiguzo, Hon. Justice A.N. Eluwa, Hon. Justice I.C. Ibeawuchi and His Worship Nneoma Chika Ezerioha, made insightful observations, inputs and remarks as they pledged to support the fight against female genital mutilation.

The Acting State Coordinator of National Human Rights Commission, Imo State, Mrs. Justina Okeke expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the two-day workshop, and commended stakeholders for their active participation throughout the programme, stressing that dangers of female genital mutilation could not be over-emphasized.

She advocated continuous sensitization until the practice is no more and called for concerted efforts towards ending the obnoxious practice.

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