Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed a measure this week that criminalizes female genital mutilation, in one of his last official acts before yielding the country’s top office to Muhammadu Buhari, the International Business Times reports.
Some 19.9 million Nigerian women living today are thought to have undergone the practice, and human rights advocates hope the decision will spur about 26 other African countries to outlaw the procedure, the report says.
Nigeria’s groundbreaking legislation sends “a powerful signal not only within Nigeria but across Africa,” according to J. Peter Pham, the director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council. Pham said the measure effectively criminalizes a significant percentage of female mutilations on the African continent. “One cannot overestimate the impact of any decision by Nigeria [on the continent],” he told the online news outlet.
More than 125 million girls and women alive today around the world are believed to have undergone some form of genital mutilation, with the majority concentrated in 29 countries, all but two in Africa, according to a 2013 study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Jonathan suffered a stunning defeat by Buhari in March, becoming the first Nigerian president to be unseated at the ballot box. Buhari was inaugurated Friday.
“It took a lame duck president and lame duck legislators who don’t have to face voters to undertake something that goes that much against the cultural norms or practices,” Pham told the International Business Times about the timing of the law.
Pham argued that Jonathan had even done a favor for Buhari, who will not have to face a future voter backlash on the controversial issue. “It’s already signed and Buhari can say he’s simply enforcing the laws,” Pham said.