LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Activists on Friday welcomed Nigeria's new law banning female genital mutilation (FGM), but warned that legislation alone will not be enough to eradicate the practice.
According to 2014 U.N. data, a quarter of Nigerian women have undergone FGM -- the partial or total removal of external genitalia which can cause physical and psychological problems.
Although some of Nigeria's 36 states already prohibit the ritual, this week's new federal law brings in a nationwide ban.
It will encourage states without bans already in place to tackle the practice, and will embolden activists to help communities root it out, said Grace Uwiyeze of the campaign charity Equality Now.
"It's not going to immediately stop communities from practising FGM," she said, adding that it will be essential to back up the new law with strong enforcement.
Goodluck Jonathan was beaten in Nigeria's presidential election in March by Muhammadu Buhari, who was sworn into office on Friday. Jonathan signed the ban into law as one of his final acts as president, national media reported.
The law, which was passed by the Senate on May 5, also prohibits men from abandoning their wives or children without economic support, according to the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme, a Lagos-based thinktank.
FGM is practised by communities across a swathe of African countries as well as pockets of Asia and the Middle East, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls and occasionally on adult women. The ritual is seen by families as a gateway to marriage and a way of preserving a girl's purity, with uncut girls ostracised in many communities.
"Global experience tells us that ultimately, it's through changing attitudes, not just laws, that we will end FGM," Tanya Barron, chief executive of children's charity Plan International, said by email.
"Prosecution must be just one strand of our efforts to end FGM worldwide," she said. "What is encouraging is that we are talking more and more about FGM, in Africa, in Europe and across the world."
Reporting By Joseph D'Urso; Editing by Ros Russell