Day of girl-child: How have Nigerian girls fared?




As the world celebrates the 2019 International Day of the Girl-child, UJI ABDULLAHI ILIYASU highlights some challenges of the girl-child in the southwestern and northern parts of the country.

Background

The girls in the country will continue to experience the discrimination they are being subjected to despite the ritual of the International Day of the Girl-child celebrated in Nigeria and globally to appreciate their problems and potential in world affairs.  This is because in many parts of the country, the cultural and religious practices hinder the overall development of the girl-child as encapsulated in the Beijing conference.

In many parts of the country, various communities are engaged in practices inimical to the total growth and development of the girl-child.  Deprivation and sometimes total denial to education, early marriage, genital mutilation, hawking and sexual abuse are some of the ills the girl-child suffers in the Nigerian society.  

In the southwest for instance, the obnoxious practice of female genital mutilation is still on despite public outcry against the custom by both local and international activists. The female child has her genital mutilated by native doctors outside of the clean healthy clinics. Pathetically, some are carried out by health personnel who are supposed to know the implications of such practices.

The only reason the cultural activists give to support the practice is that it will lower the sexual desire of the girl-child.

It is a pity that even the female legislators in the National Assembly and state assemblies are not actively involved in formulating stiffer laws to prohibit such inhuman practices, which debase womanhood. The Creator who put the organ there knew why. Therefore, it is inhuman to mutilate or tamper with it. 

If the girl-child has the option to decide whether her genital be mutilated or left intact, she would most likely agree to allow it as created.   The practitioners are not aware that the indifference to sexual advances by brides from their men has been one of the major causes of divorce among young couples.

Female genital mutilation

The United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) representative recently expressed concern about high rate of female genital mutilation in the southwestern part of the country despite the global outcry against the practice.  

A report by a Nigerian organisation working on youth and environmental health has also corroborated that. The outcome of the findings was made public by the executive director, Value Re-orientation for Community Enhancement (VARCE), Ademola Adebisi. It shows the prevalence of the practice in some areas in the southwest.

 “It was in the course of my investigation that I discovered that those who hide their children or even run away with them so as not to undergo this barbaric act are compelled to bring the children back home to carry out the rites or risk being excommunicated and ostracised or even called bastards.

“A community leader also told me with confidence that some are brought back from wherever they are, diabolically, just to carry out genital mutilation on their girl-child as that is the custom.

“These are ignorant of the fact that some children get infected due to the usage of one blade for all the children, which can eventually lead to their death,” Mr Adebisi said.

Although some communities in western states have made public declarations against the harmful cultural practice at the end of 2018, this evil practice has not subsided and is in force today.

Action is required in the zone, especially in the states where this practice is ongoing unabated to save the future of the innocent girl-child.

In some instances, mature girls are tricked into coming home from northern parts of the country and their genitals are forcefully mutilated.

“People who have suffered the same fate started sharing horrible experiences of their daughters that were abused, some with the consent of their ignorant fathers and some without. While it was later established that genital mutilation is secretly being carried out with or without the consent of the parents, survivors of this dastardly and barbaric act all have only tales of woes to tell.”

 Child marriage

It was reported that a child bride simply identified as Basira wholives with her husband in Yamawa, a backwater of Kano state, said she was barely 12 years old, playing in the sand, when her parents married her off to her husband, whom she said was in his late 40s.

“I have been living with the man for the past three years. My parents brought me to my husband’s house when I was only 12,” Basira said.

While many other girls of her age were under their parents’ protection, going to school, playing in the moon in the villages, Basira was already a mother. And because of her young age she could give birth to 12 or more children before her menopause if there is no deliberate effort to stop her and her man.

Child-marriage is a clear illustration of how millions of children, usually among the poor class in the north are abused by parents and religious scholars.

This abuse adversely impacts on the girl’s survival and development.

Child rights Act

Part III Section 21 of the Nigeria Child Rights Act states that “No person under the age of 18 years is capable of a valid marriage, and accordingly, a marriage so contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever.”

Also Part III Section 22, which prohibits the betrothal of children, says, “No parent, guardian or any other person shall betroth a child to any person.”

A breach of either Section 21 or Section 22 attracts a fine of N500, 000 or imprisonment for a term of five years or both.

According to a UNICEF report, Nigeria is home to the largest number of child brides in Africa, with 23 million girls and women who were married in childhood.

This means that about 49 per cent of Nigerian women marry under the age of 18, according to reports.

Emir Sanusi’s prescription

In September, Emir of Kano, HRH Muhammad Sanusi II spoke on the challenges of child-marriage in the north.  But unfortunately, despite the outcry against it by the elite, it has continued to grow. The fact that some politicians and religious scholars are even involved made it even pathetic.

Sanusi has said that the education of the girl-child would be the perfect solution for this challenge.  He stressed that it’s no use to dissuade a man who wants to marry a second or a third wife, if the first wife is illiterate.

“If I were to advise governors in the northwest and the northeast, which goal should they focus on? It’s one, and it’s a subset of one; just educate the girl-child.

“I mean look, we talk about this technical economic issues of industrialisation and power and so on. Take the north, for example, we’ve been growing at 3.4, 3.5 per cent per annum. That means the population in northern Nigeria has been doubling every 20 to 25 years.

“In that period you’ve had desertification, Lake Chad has lost its water resources, the resources have shrunk and the population has increased. You are not going to solve that by having the government spend money.

“Address cultural attitudes as to what age do girls marry, how many children do girls have, how many wives do men have, it’s not money,” Sanusi said.

Sanusi further said that if Nigeria is serious in  addressing the issue of child-marriage and population explosion, government has to devise  the quickest way to address them.

 He said it is hard to stop marriage to child-bride in the north but if the government educates the girls and make sure that they finish secondary school and have skills before they get married, they would not have eight children, they would not accept domestic violence, and they are more likely to stop their husbands from having a second wife.

“So you deal with high fertility rates, you deal with out-of-school children because if a woman is educated her children go to school, you deal with malnutrition.”

Free education the answer

The only way to eradicate deprivations, denials and abuses the girl-child suffers in the society is to educate them. Free education to the girls and women at all levels and possibly a female university could aggressively bridge the gap between the larger illiterate poor population of women and their literate men counterparts.

FCT minister’s laudable move

Recently, minister of the Federal capital Territory (FCT) Muhammad Bello has advocated free and compulsory quality secondary education for girls as part of efforts to enhance societal development. This is indeed a step in the right direction that should be taken by all state governors and other political leaders as well as state and federal legislators.

Bello, represented by the FCT minister of state, Dr Ramatu Aliyu, made the statement in Abuja, at a ceremony to mark the 2019 International Day of the Girl-Child.

He described this year’s theme, “Girl First-Unscripted and Unstoppable”, as not only timely but apt, adding that education of the girl-child was very critical for the advancement of any nation. This is true because if you educate a woman you educate the whole nation.

The minister disclosed that the FCT administration had made education of the girl-child a priority and carried out advocacy campaigns to all parts of the territory to encourage the enrolment of girls in schools.

In FCT schools there is little difference in the enrolment figures of boys and girls. He said that girls deserved to be celebrated, considering the important roles women play in the society as mothers, primary care-givers, managers of home finances and businesses.

The United Nations General Assembly had set aside October11 to celebrate and promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights. But in Nigeria the seems a mere annual ritual as societal discrimination against women remains in politics, civil service and education.

The minister said that women had often been the difference between success and failure of homes, organisations and even the national affairs of great and small nations, but regretted that despite the role played by women both in the family front and national affairs, women and girls had often been handed “the short end of the stick” and placed at a disadvantage position in so many ways, and identified cultural factors as responsible for the denial of girls’ basic rights such as the right to education and choice of spouse and marriage timing.

 The slow pace of development Nigeria has been experiencing after her political independence in October 1, 1960, is as a result of the fact that the rights of the girl-child has not been given the deserved priority by policy makers.

All female university helpsIt should be a national policy that all school-age girls and women who desire to further their education should do so at the state’s costs. In other words, there must be an affirmative action to make education free and compulsory for girls and women in Nigeria. By this, it is not even out of place to establish at least one woman university in the six geopolitical regions of the country. An all-female higher institution will propel increase enrolment in schools as that will ease the suspicion of some men who would not want their wives to mingle with men in their absence. 

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