Again, the rights of the girl-child is being canvassed for at a time that the society and indeed many states do not regard that gender with dignity. IDACHABA SUNNY ELEOJO reports.
In every home in this country, there is a female gender either in the form of a child, teenager, wife or a mother. Not only are they called the pillars in the home, they are supportive in every sense especially when they get married.
In today Nigeria, it is believed that women have largely assumed the role of bread winners in most families as they are seen supporting their husbands, extended family members and their own children. However due to cultural and religious inclinations, especially in certain parts of the country, they are denied opportunities for growth and emancipation, thus they are like endangered species good for nothing but play the role of a wife and mother.
According to Mrs Natasha Akpoti Uduaghan, a female gender advocate, “The girl-child and by extension women are denied the right of humanity on account of their gender, not because they are lazy, but because the society feels inclined to this erroneous impression that they are good for nothing other than child-bearing and back-bench. Many things are not working in their favour as against the male gender and this stereotype has to change.”
Obasanjo hit the nail on the head
It was in this light that former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently expressed his support for girl-child education in every part of the country and vowed to come against anything that would subjugate their growth and empowerment.
He was speaking recently at the Okusegun Obasanjo Library in Abeokuta during this years World Diabetes Day.
The former president while speaking on the theme of the event used opportunity of the event to emphasised the need for what he called contentment in every human endeavour, saying it could reduce the chances of getting diabetes.
In his usual characteristic, he delved into the issue of girl-child when he shared a personal experience about his blood sister who was denied education and self improvement while growing up, the reason for which her life was stunted.
Obasanjo noted with pains and anger how his younger sister was suddenly pulled out of school as against her wish which unfortunately made their development into adulthood different.
It is for this reason he has resolved to always do anything he can to ensure the sustenance of girl child education in any part of the world especially Nigeria.
“The culture in some parts of the country where the male child is given preference over the female child is an idea and culture that must be killed. Woe betides anyone who attempts to relegate my eldest child Iyabo. Iyabo would crush such a person be he or she,” he said humourously though, but with a stern tone.
Sanusi Lamido’s take
Policy makers and child rights advocates had called for the recognition of the rights of the girl child whenever they had the opportunity, for instance, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the former Emir of Kano minced no words when he told northern wealthy individuals in the north to stop wasting money in building mosques but rather invest such in girl-child education. He was speaking in Kano in 2017 during a keynote address at the 3rd international conference on Islamic Banking and Finance, organised by the International Institute of Islamic Banking and Finance, Bayero University, Kano.
According to him, “I’m just tired of people coming to me to say I want to build a new mosque. You know, we keep building mosques and our daughters are illiterates. My appeal is that if you really want to help Kano, don’t come to me with a request to build a N300m mosque because I have enough mosques everywhere. And if I don’t have a mosque, I’ll build it myself. If you really want to help, go and educate a girl child in the village.”
He did not mind whose ox was gored when he said that over 50 percent of girls between 18 and 20 were given out in marriage in that part of the country.
“It is therefore not a mere coincidence that this is where you have the highest levels of illiteracy, early marriage, divorce and the highest levels of domestic violence. People need to understand that the law has to change. If you look at the medical data on maternal health, girls who get pregnant below the age of 15 are five times as likely to die as girls who get pregnant at the age of 20.
“Those who get pregnant under 18 are twice as likely to die as those who get pregnant at the age of 20. So, it is important that we look at this issue of early marriage,” he had said.
The former Kano Emir was not alone in this campaign as many non governmental organisations have spoken out against the maltreatment a girl child receives, saying the society is not fair to them especially in some parts of the country.
Damning demography report
For instance, the Nigerian Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) reported that the adolescent birth rate in 2018 was 106 births per 1,000 women and that Bauchi state had the highest number of adolescent births (198), while Imo state had the least. On a general note, however, adolescent births, the survey noted seem to be higher in the north, specifically in the North-west, where the median age of first marriage and first intercourse is approximately put at 16 years. And with the recent surge of insurgency in the North-east and banditry/kidnapping largely in the North-west, it is not clear if Bauch state still remains the highest in terms of adolescent births.
The 2018 demographic health survey has the most recent national data on teenage pregnancy and it is carried out every five years.
The survey revealed that 19% of adolescent women had begun having children below age 18. The 2013 and 2008 editions of the survey reported a slight decrease in 2003, but DHS noted that the rate was 28% in 1990.
In 2003, for instance, the rate was higher in rural areas (29%), and 32% in 2018.
From a human right activist’s perspective
While bemoaning this situation, a human rights lawyer, Babalola Ajibike, said according to Nigeria’s Child’s Rights Act, no one under 18 years is considered capable of contracting a valid marriage, but said this is not observed in all parts of the country.
“The notion of child marriage is greatly frowned upon and even condemned in the southern and eastern parts of the country, but receives open acceptance in some parts of the northern region,” she said.
She said further that the 2003 Act had only been adopted by 24 of the 36 states of the federation. This meant that in 12 states, girls as young as 12 could still get married.
She also noted that there seems to be a lot of discrepancy between the Child Right Act and the constitution.
“There exists a gap in the country’s constitution and laws which tacitly encourage child marriage. For example, in Section 277 of the Child’s Rights Act, anyone below age 18 is considered a child, while a section of the constitution provides that any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age even if she is younger than 18. This is the contradiction in our own laws. A lot still needs to be done for the girl-child.”