Harmful Traditional Practices

Harmful traditional practices (HTPs) are longstanding cultural or social practices that have been deemed harmful to individuals, particularly women and girls, and to society as a whole. These practices are deeply rooted in traditional beliefs and customs, and often reflect gender inequality, discrimination, and violations of human rights. In Nigeria, a country with over 200 ethnic groups, HTPs are prevalent in different regions and cultures and continue to have a significant impact on the health and well-being of women and girls.

Some of the most common harmful traditional practices in Nigeria include female genital mutilation/cutting, child marriage, widowhood practices, gender-based violence, and witchcraft accusations. These practices have serious consequences on the physical, emotional, and psychological health of those affected, and often perpetuate poverty and inequality. Despite efforts to eradicate these practices through education and awareness campaigns, they still persist in many parts of Nigeria, especially in rural areas.

In this topic, it is essential to understand the root causes and implications of HTPs in Nigeria, as well as to identify and promote strategies for their elimination. By addressing HTPs, Nigeria can make significant progress in achieving gender equality, reducing poverty, and improving health outcomes for all its citizens.

Meaning of Harmful Traditional Practices

These are practices that inflict physical, mental, social and health harm on individuals. They are types of violence primarily perpetrated against women and children in particular communities and societies. These practices have persisted for so long that the perpetrators justify them as accepted cultural practices.

Examples of Harmful Traditional Practices

  1. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Also known as female circumcision, FGM involves the painful removal of female genital organs and is typically performed on infants. This practice is prevalent in many Nigerian communities, where it is believed to prevent girls from being promiscuous.
  2. Slavery: Slavery is a state in which an individual is subjected to various forms of hardship, suffering, and violence, with no right to resist or fight back. This deplorable practice has been abolished worldwide, but instances of forced labour and human trafficking still occur.
  3. Child Marriage: This is a practice where young girls are given out in marriage before they reach adulthood, often in their teenage years. This practice is most prevalent in the Hausa culture.
  4. Widowhood: In many Nigerian communities, widows are often mistreated. Some cultures force widows to drink water used in bathing the dead, while some widows are not allowed to bathe until their husbands are buried. In other cultures, widows are compelled to wear black dresses for a certain period after the death of their husbands.
  5. Preference for Male Children: In many Nigerian cultures, there is a strong preference for male children. Women with female children in the family are not given the same recognition and respect as those with male children. They may receive insults, embarrassment, scolding, and maltreatment from their husbands and their family until they have a male child.
  6. Violence against Women: In some societies, men beat their wives with canes, horse whips, slaps, or rods for reasons such as coming home late, not cooking on time, or not taking care of the children. This kind of violence against women is unacceptable and a violation of their basic human rights.


  1. POTENTIAL FATALITIES: Certain traditional practices can result in severe pain and even death.
  2. SEXUAL DYSFUNCTION: Female genital mutilation has the potential to cause significant relationship difficulties for girls and women who are married.
  3. HIV/AIDS TRANSMISSION: When female genital mutilation is carried out with contaminated surgical equipment, the person is at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
  4. EMOTIONAL DISTRESS: Women who are forced to undergo certain rituals, such as drinking water used to wash the dead husband’s body, or sleeping with the dead husband in the same room, may suffer from emotional pain.
  5. IMPAIRED DEVELOPMENT: Child marriage often deprives girls of the opportunity to develop physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
  6. VIOLATION OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS: Most harmful traditional practices disproportionately affect women, impinging on their reproductive and health rights.
  7. PHYSICAL HEALTH EFFECTS: Harmful traditional practices can result in permanent physical harm, such as scarring, loss of bodily function, and chronic pain.
  8. PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA: Victims of harmful traditional practices may experience long-lasting psychological trauma, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  9. DISCRIMINATION: Many harmful traditional practices are rooted in gender discrimination and reinforce harmful gender stereotypes, which can lead to unequal treatment and opportunities for women and girls.
  10. EDUCATIONAL BARRIERS: Harmful traditional practices such as child marriage can disrupt a girl’s education, limiting her opportunities for personal and professional development, and perpetuating cycles of poverty and gender inequality.

Methods of Preventing Harmful Traditional Practices

  1. Implementation of laws to prohibit and punish harmful traditional practices is crucial to protecting the human rights and well-being of vulnerable individuals. The government must enact and enforce legislation that explicitly prohibits harmful practices such as female genital mutilation, child marriage, widowhood rites, and preference for male children, among others.
  2. Raising public awareness and educating communities about the dangers and negative impacts of harmful traditional practices is essential to promote behavioural and cultural change. This can be achieved through targeted public awareness campaigns, community dialogue, and engaging with community leaders, elders, and religious leaders to promote the abandonment of such practices.
  3. Promoting gender equitable practices that are more healthy and positive is necessary for the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment. This includes promoting women’s education, access to healthcare and family planning services, and economic opportunities, as well as challenging social norms and stereotypes that perpetuate harmful practices. It is important to promote the adoption of positive practices such as respect for women’s rights, gender equality, and the empowerment of women and girls.
  4. Community-based interventions such as the establishment of skill acquisition centres and the provision of basic amenities like a good business environment, tourism, stipends for the unemployed, and game centres can help reduce the prevalence of harmful practices. The provision of support services such as counselling, health care, and legal aid to survivors of such practices can also help to mitigate the negative impacts of these practices.
  5. Providing access to healthcare and support services for victims of harmful traditional practices.
  6. Training and education programs for community leaders and members to raise awareness about the negative impacts of harmful traditional practices.
  7. Encouraging dialogue and communication within communities to challenge and change harmful practices.
  8. Engaging with traditional and religious leaders to promote alternative, non-harmful practices that are respectful of cultural traditions.

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