November 20, 2020
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BY EMMANUEL MGBEAHURIKE, OWERRI

UNICEF has appealed to religious leaders to take up a leading role in the crusade against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful practices against women and children in the society.

As vanguards of social change, promotion of social welfare and fight for equality, peace and human dignity, the Agency is insistent that the religious heads have the responsibility and mandate to protect and to promote the lives of their followers as well as victims of all forms of obnoxious cultural practices.

Dr. Conteh, UNICEF Chief of Field Office, Enugu gave the charge at a two day Advocacy Dialogue with religious leaders to seek their collaboration towards the elimination of FGM in the Ihitte/Uboma council area which the Agency organized with support from UNICEF.

His words, “religious leaders have moral authority within their communities. They have the respect and acceptance of their community and in some cases, they are more powerful than secular leaders which gives them an additional opportunity, power and responsibility to help in the fight against harmful  traditional practices that are not sanctioned by the scriptures”.

Dr. Conteh who was represented by the UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, Victor Atuchukwu gave a vivid explanation of what FGM is all about, types, those at risk of the practice and those who perform it, effects on the health of the girls and women as well as the immediate and short term physical health complications said that national policy and plan of Action on elimination of FGM in the country (2013-2017)-2020-2040 version is being produced.

He enjoined the religious leaders to sensitize their congregation about ending FGM, stressing that it (FGM) is a cultural practice with devastation, medical, social, emotional, legal and economic repercussions for girls and women.

Relying on the nation’s 2018 Demographic and Health Survey report, the world body disclosed that the state ranks the first position on prevalence of the practice at 62% for women aged 15-49 years.

He unfolded the picture at the public declaration of abandonment (PDA) of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) practice in the 31 communities of Ehime Mbano LGA of the state.

The UNICEF chief however expressed delight that the state prevalence dropped from 68% in 2013 to 62% in 2018 which he said is a call to action by all and sundry to quickly and as a matter of urgency continue to work, collaborate with the community leaders enforce the protection laws to reverse the ugly trend and to protect women and abandonment of FGM.

Speaking, the Director National Orientation Agency Imo State, Dr. Vitus Ekeocha stressed that FGM has serious health implications for sexual and reproductive health of girls and women.

He listed the immediate and short-term physical health complications of FGM to including  intense pain, excessive bleeding and difficulties during intercourse and childbirth.

The NOA director stressed that UNICEF inconjunction with  NOA had been engaged in many activities in the state so as to end the obnoxious practice of FGM in the state.

Dr. Ekeocha highlighted these activities included the UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme on elimination of FGM, supporting the state government to strengthen and enhance legal framework prohibiting FGM and JNICEF support interventions in seven LGA’s in Imo namely, Ngor-Okpala, Oguta, Ikeduru, Ihitte-Uboma, Ehime Mbano, Ideato North and Owerri West respectively.

He called on the participants to collaborate with their religious leaders to protect girls and women in the various communities in Ihitte-Uboma with a view to abandon FGM completely and other harmful cultural practices prevalent in the state.

Dr. Ekeocha explained that the training was to review the beneficial and harmful effects of culture and tradition and the impact of FGM on the health and well being of the people.

According to him, this training was also aimed to increase the participants’ capacity to educate community members about the dangers of FGM, motivate them to stop the practice and support women and girls subjected to FGM or risk of FGM to get help.

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