Preserving destiny of the girl child
But the dreams of this ingenious specie are being frustrated by non-provision of specific needs and tackling of challenges, such as, discrimination, bias, violence and lack of equal opportunities with male counterparts, among others. And there are glaring gaps in data collation and knowledge about the specific needs and challenges that girls face in their bids to improve their lives and equally contribute to the progress of their societies.
One of such issues standing in the way of girls’ quest to contribute to the progress of their societies is child marriage. Although child marriage is against the law in many countries, including Nigeria, as international treaties forbid it, it is estimated that about 51 million girls across the globe are annually forced into early marriages.
Quite often, in most African countries, parents of child brides are driven by factors, such as, pressure to conform to age-old traditions like preservation of chastity and economic considerations to give out their young daughters in marriage. It is not uncommon also in poor developing countries, for poverty stricken parents to settle debts by offering their underage girls as payments!
These child brides often suffer from physical and psychological trauma, as well as, exposure to early sexual contact. Subsequently, pregnancy comes in at a time, when the young girl is not adequately physically developed to permit the passage of a baby with relative ease. The outcome of this forced copulation and one of the most demoralising effects of early marriage is Vesico-vaginal fistula. Otherwise known as obstetric fistula, it is a medical condition, where there is an opening between the uterus and the bladder because the pelvic bones do not have sufficient time to develop before the process of conception. This often leads to abandonment or divorce by their husbands and ostracisation by their communities as urine continuously leak from their bladders. Also, these early marriages deny girls the opportunity for quality education, in addition to depriving them of their childhood. Among the more than 100 million children not in school worldwide, approximately 40 per cent are girls.
In Nigeria, women and girls constitute 60 per cent of the illiterate population. Similarly, it has been estimated that over two million girls are subjected to genital mutilation every year, a practice still rampant in some parts of Nigeria. Intervention into the practice is considered as a violation of privacy, yet many girls face several health risks through this, including severe bleeding and contraction of HIV infection through the use of unhygienic methods in carrying out the procedure. Statistical data shows that adolescent girls have HIV rate up to five percent higher than their boys’ counterpart.
Equally, rape remains a common form of violence against the female specie. It is defined as having sex with a woman and lately young girls and toddlers without their consents. Today, the rape epidemic in our society reflects the extent to which female human rights are flagrantly threatened. Available laws and collective attitudes toward this weapon of domination and repression call to question our combined sense of justice and our level of civilisation. Like a scourge, the regular cases of reported rape in the country’s media and confirmed statistics are threatening to smother the essence of the society. Each day, the media are awash with weird stories of varying degrees of ludicrousness; from child defilement to the rape of old women. Nobody, not even infants, are safe from this form of terrorism against the girl child.
Perhaps, one of the most audacious of the dastardly acts against the girl child in Nigeria till date remains the abduction of over 200 Secondary School girls, who were kidnapped in a most brazen manner from their hostel at Government Girls’ College, Chibok, Borno State, North Eastern Nigeria. While some of the girls escaped, the rest have remained in captivity after two years, despite wide condemnation and outrage across the world. In fact, some of the leading nations of the world offered to help in rescuing the girls. A renowned teenage Pakistani child right activist, Malala Yousefzai even visited the country on account of the girls’ plight.
As a result of all the aforementioned and other challenges women and girls are left to contend with, the United Nations General Assembly, on December 19, 2011, adopted resolution 66/170 to declare October 11, as the international Day of the Girl Child, to recognise girls’ rights and the unique challenges they face around the world.
The observation supports more opportunity for girls and increases awareness of gender inequality faced by girls worldwide, based upon their gender. This inequality includes areas, such as, right to education/access to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care, and protection from discrimination, violence against women and child marriage. The first one was marked in 2012 with the theme ‘Ending Child Marriage’.
The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child is “Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: A Global Girl Data Movement”, is a call for action for increased investment in collecting and analysing girl-focused, girl-relevant and sex-disaggregated data. One year into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, improving data on girls and addressing the issues that are holding them back is critical for fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals.
Experiences have shown that investments in girls’ education translate directly and quickly into poverty reduction, better health care, better nutrition for the whole family and better overall economic performance. Therefore, one of the best ways of analysing the data on how to tackle challenges facing the girl is to improve her access to good quality primary and secondary education. By the time she leaves the secondary school, she would have been armed with some basic knowledge on how to cope and interact with the opposite sex and the challenges of child rearing, as well as, learn basic facts on how to assert her fundamental human rights.
In all, it is imperative for policy and decision makers to bear in mind that the progress and development of a nation is not only measured by the amount of money in its foreign reserve, but also by the number of its empowered girls. So, having celebrated this year’s International Day of The Girl Child, the global community should go beyond the usual rituals and routines often associated with the marking of the day. This, indeed, is the time to match rhetoric with action!
• Ogunnubi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.