The Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, on assumption of office made a commitment to girl-child education as the surest way of closing the long existing gender gaps in the country. In this report ENE OSANG examines previous efforts in this regards as well as the recently inaugurated minster’s road map to achieving the set goal.
The Ministry of Women Affairs is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring speedy and healthy development of Nigerian women and children in the mainstream of national development process as well as ensuring their survival, protection, development and participation of towards having a meaningful life and realization of their full potential.
The ministry is also responsible for providing an enabling environment for the maximum and holistic development of women and children through the implementation of international, regional and national laws, in addition to attendant policies, programmes and projects aimed at enhancing the quality of life of the vulnerable groups to enable them contribute to nation building and development.
Implementation of this mandate has, however, remained a herculean task for past ministers as the same issues militating against the growth of women and children continue to rear its head and in different dimensions.
Commitment to girl-child education
The Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, during her maiden press briefing tagged: Marking School Resumption of Children, which held at the ministry’s headquarters in Abuja, assured of the ministry’s commitment to ensuring education for all girls, if the issue of gender differences must be achieved.
Tallen maintained that children constituted the foundation on which the future of nations are built, stressing that their early years of life has profound impact on their future, health, development, learning and wellbeing.
She regretted that Nigeria’s out-of-school population was the largest in the world, noting that a lot of efforts were being put in by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to degrade insurgency in the North-east and restore normalcy in the region in order to encourage school enrolment, retention, and completion.
According to her, the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MIC) 5 of 2016 and 2017 conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in collaboration with UNICEF and other partners, about 60 percent of children of school age are out of school in Nigeria.
She noted that this statics shows North-East with 53.3 per cent of this number holds the fourth highest number of school girls, out of school of primary school age, while the South-east has the lowest with number of girls out of school of 46.2percent.
She also said states in the North-east and North-west have female primary net attendance rates of 47.7 per cent and 47.3 per cent respectively, indicating that half of the girls are not in school.
“We all know education is the major ingredient for self actualization and attainment of the potential of any child. It is basic human rights as recognized by the Child Rights Acts (CRA) and vital to personal and societal development and wellbeing, and the greatest legacy any nation can bequeath to its children,” she said.
“All children, therefore, deserve quality education irrespective of gender, recognizing that the Girl-child is a vulnerable member of the society who is confronted with several discriminatory practices from birth through childhood.
“The combination of these negative practices, values, customs, and attitudes often deny her the opportunity of good education and as a result her aspiration and dreams are smothered. Mothers’ lack of formal education contributed to the increased figures of out of school children,” she added.
The minister further emphasised the importance of Universal Basic Education for all, stressing that achieving cannot be a reality where the girl child forms part of the larger sub-group who cannot access basic education.
“As contained in the Child Rights Act 2003, section 15 (1) every child has the right to free, compulsory Universal Basic Education and it shall be the duty the Government in Nigeria to provide such education.
“The basic foundation for achieving gender equality is to ensure that gender gaps at each level of the educational sector are reduced or closed within the shortest possible time,” she maintained.
Child Rights Act
The minister said that as a result of this, the federal government has renewed efforts in ensuring enactment of the CRA which has its principles enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CR6) and the AU Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
Constraints of socio-cultural norms
She condemned the socio-cultural norms which encourage the withdrawal of school age girls for marriage, lamenting that doing so has brought lots of health issues on young girls who still deserved to be catered for.
“The girl child is often withdrawn from school for early marriage due to economic reasons or some other excuses such inability of parents to pay school fees, provide school uniforms, books, sandals and other hidden cost involved in the education of children.
“In some locations in Nigeria, girls are given out in marriage as early as the age of 12, after which they must start producing children: this poses a lot of health risk for the girl child as she is not emotionally, physically and psychologically prepared for marriage and motherhood and she stands the risk of having complications since her pelvic bones are not fully developed.
“In the Northern part of the country, getting out-of-school children back into education poses a massive challenge. Geography and poverty levels play important roles as factors in the marginalization of children education,” she noted.
The minister disclosed that the ministry would focus on girl-child education and mentoring in order to improve the quality of manpower and population of Nigeria. This, she said would be carried out through collaboration with the ministry of education and other stakeholders.
She stressed that the CRA Section 21 stipulates that, “No person under the age of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid married, and accordingly a marriage so contracted is null and void and of no effect what to ever.”
She also maintained that education of the girl child has a lot of benefit for the Individual, community, and nation as a whole, noting that: “These benefits include higher survival and lower morbidity rates among her children, higher gainful employment and Income, increased economic productivity and higher status.
“Girls’ education is a human right. It is also our responsibility. Educating girls contributes significantly to the development of a stable, prosperous and healthy nation/state whose citizens are active, productive and empowered.
“The children of educated women are more likely to go to school. Girls’ education spurs exponential positive effects on social and economic development for generations to come. Educating girls enhances growth rates and reduces social disparities,” she explained.
The minister further expressed government’s commitment to the CRA stating that advocacy and sensitization programmes are being funded to create awareness on children’s rights.
She charged all stakeholders to discharge their duties to children from the point of view of their rights.
“Government should not be left alone in this quest to provide quality education to our teaming children. A
child with a stimulating home environment does better in all aspects of early ‘childhood development.
“I, therefore, urge parents not to relent in their efforts in providing enabling environment for our children to achieve their potentials.
“We have no future without children and we must do whatever is necessary to ensure their survival, development and protection so that they become responsible and useful members of the society,” she stated.