In one of his last moves as president of Nigeria, outgoing leader Goodluck Jonathan outlawed female genital mutilation last week, continuing a trend of criminalizing the practice in nations across Africa.
The new law criminalizes the cultural tradition of FGM, also known as female circumcision, which is performed on an estimated 125 million women and girls worldwide, according to a 2013 UNICEF report. The procedure can range from partial to total removal of the clitoris and labia. About a quarter of Nigerian women and girls are affected by the procedure, the report says.
According to a 2013 version of Nigeria's bill, which criminalizes "harmful traditional practices," anyone in Nigeria who performs female genital mutilation or engages someone to carry it out can be jailed for four years or fined the equivalent of $1,000. Attempting or aiding the procedure can also land Nigerians in jail for two years, with a fine up to $500.
According to Equality Now, an international group that's working to end the practice, 23 African nations including Nigeria have enacted laws against FGM.
Kenya-based Mary Wandia, FGM Program Manager for Equality Now, called Nigeria's criminalization of the practice "a vital first step."
"The fact that Nigeria decided to ban FGM is a vital first step to ensure justice for women and girls in that country," Wandia wrote in an email to VICE News. "What we need next is effective implementation of the law to ensure that all girls at risk are fully protected and that the cycle is broken once and for all."
Wandia said Equality Now is looking toward other countries to follow Nigeria's example in outlawing what she says is an "extreme form of violence against women and girls."
Twenty-four of the 29 countries where FGM is concentrated have enacted legislation relating to the practice, according to the 2013 UNICEF report.
The key countries with a significant FGM presence but no legislation in place include Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Sudan and The Gambia, Wandia said, "but we are hopeful that they will join the positive momentum on the African continent, most recently continued by Nigeria."
In Mali, 89 percent of women have been mutilated by the procedure, while in Sierra Leone and Sudan, 88 percent of women have experienced FGM.
According to UNICEF, 62 percent of women and girls in Nigeria think the practice should end.
Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont
Watch the VICE News Documentary, "Reversing Female Circumcision: The Cut That Heals."
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