By Kieran Guilbert
DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Armed with mobile phones, young people across Nigeria are turning to social media to discuss and report cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) in a country where a quarter of girls and women have been cut, activists said on Tuesday.
While press freedom in Nigeria is limited, social media is rising in popularity and has been used to draw the attention of local and national authorities to violence against women and girls, according to anti-FGM charity 28 Too Many.
"Lots of young people are speaking out about FGM – whether it is Twitter chats, blogs or webinars," Nigerian activist Kelechukwu Nwachukwu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Young people might not have access to traditional or print media, but they feel engaged on social media," added 22-year-old Nwachukwu, a law student who also works for The Girl Generation, a U.K.-funded program to end FGM in 10 African countries.
Around 20 million women and girls in Nigeria have undergone FGM, which is practiced in many African countries and pockets of the Middle East and Asia. FGM is estimated to have affected 200 million worldwide, the U.N. children's agency (UNICEF) says.
The ritual, often seen as a gateway to marriage and a way of preserving a girl's purity, involves the removal of the external genitalia and causes numerous health problems that can be fatal.
"If FGM does occur, the first place a case is reported is often on social media," said Mary Wandia, End FGM program manager at the London-based women's rights group Equality Now.
"It is hugely important to help gather information quickly," she said, adding that she had seen an increase in the use of Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter to talk about the dangers of FGM.
Nigeria banned FGM in May last year. While 13 of the 36 states have legislation that bans the practice, the other states have yet to adopt the federal law, according to 28 Too Many.
"It takes time for each state to get their laws in place and then there is a challenge of implementing," the charity said in a report published on the International Day of the Girl Child.
(Reporting by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katie Nguyen)