In contemporary times, the issue of sexuality is an aspect of reproductive rights, which is internationally recognized as critical to the advancement and promotion of adolescent human rights. However, under several African cultures, open discussions about issues bordering on sexuality are regarded as taboo. Cultural norms forbid the teaching about sexual relations and each person is supposed to find out all there is to know by experience.
Paradoxically, there are some cultural practices which have accompanying sexual implications that young/adolescent girls are encouraged to submit to and in which they are tutored from childhood. Such practices relate to the puberty stage of the adolescent girl’s life and are commonly linked with rituals, festivity, and celebrations. Closely linked with these cultural practices that have an effect on the sexuality of the adolescent girl are various myths that encourage conformity and preserve such harmful practices acroos generations.
Some of such cultural practices are discussed below:
1. Child/Early/Forced Marriage: Child/Early/Forced marriages are closely knitted. Under many African traditional cultures, the marriage of a girl is entirely the responsibility of her father if she has not attained the age of puberty. The father gives her away to a person of his choice with little or no consultation with her or her mother. Young girls that are forced into early marriages are indecently assaulted or “raped” by such older men. Victims of such practices further described a horrifying practice where such older husbands resort to incising, cutting or puncturing the genital of the young girls with sharp objects or blades to allow penetration during intercourse. This act has direct bearing on another sexual issue known as “marital rape” which, unfortunately, is not recognized in most of the legal systems in Africa, including Nigeria.
2. Female Circumcision/Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Female Circumcision, popularly known as Female Genital Mutilation, (hereinafter referred to as FGM) is culturally considered proof of femininity and a “demonstration of a woman’s courage.” FGM is a collective name given to several different traditional ritualistic practices that involve the actual cutting of female genitals, either totally or partially, and the removal of sexual organ.
There are basically three types/degrees of this harmful practice –
i. Clitoridectomy: The partial or total amputation of the clitoris, which is the female sexual organ.
ii. Excision: The amputation of both the clitoris and the inner lips.
iii. Infibulation: The removal of the clitoris, some or all of the labia minora, and incisions in the labia majora to create a raw surface. These raw surfaces are either stitched together or kept in contact until the skin heals as a hood covering the urethra and most of the vagina.
The focus of attention must shift from mainly punitive steps against the offenders to active preventive measures, in order to protect the adolescent girl. No amount of penalty metted out to the perpetrators can repair the damages caused to these young ones. Reparation is not the answer to their cry, because their purity must remain unscathed and preserved for them to enjoy their adolescent life now and their adult life in the future.
BY: SHIVANI SAHARIA (GPC Blog Contributor, India)