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#IDG2017: Nigerian girl child as an endangered specie

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.10.5M Children Not In School As Boko Haram Forces More Girls Out Of School

Blessing (not real name) is a 12-year-old girl living in Lagos and has never attended school, even for a single day. Brought from Akwa-Ibom to help one “aunty” in Lagos, her parents were told she would go to school as well as be helping out at home. Blessing was one of eight children from her parents and they were only too happy to send her away to reduce their financial burden.

However, the promised education was not to be as Blessing started hawking second hand clothing and shoes for her aunty when she wasn’t doing house chores or helping her aunt in her shop. One day, Blessing was coming back home after a day of hawking and was raped by one of her aunt’s customers under the pretext of buying shoes. Nothing was done to the perpetrator even after Blessing reported the incident to her aunt. She wasn’t even taken to a hospital for treatment. Blessing is still not in school and is still slaving for her aunt.

As the world celebrated the International Day of The Girl-Child (IDG 2017), Nigerian female children are fighting several battles with little respite coming their way. It is even more tedious for female children from the Northern part of the country where they battle high levels of poverty, sexual and gender based violence, abuse in every form, illiteracy and early child marriages.

According to the United Nations Women (UNW), about five in 10 girls in West Africa are married before the age of 18 and 1 in 7 are married before the age of 15. Early child marriages usually mean an end to girls’ education (if she went at all), vocation, and her right to make life choices. Research shows that girls who marry young are at greater risk for intimate partner violence than girls of the same age who marry later.

There are millions of Blessings today in Nigeria as revealed by a 2017 UNICEF report which states that Nigeria currently has 10.5 million children out of school, which happens to be the world’s highest number.

Sixty per cent of those children are in northern Nigeria. The country’s uncontrolled population growth has put pressure on the meager resources, public services and infrastructure. With children under 15 years of age accounting for 45 per cent of the almost 180 million population, the burden on education has become overwhelming.

Primary school enrolment has increased in recent years, but net attendance is only about 70 per cent and about 60 per cent of out-of-school children are girls. Many of those who do enroll drop out early. Low perceptions of the value of education for girls and early marriages are among the reasons. Some northern states have laws requiring education of girls and prohibiting their withdrawal from school but this is not effective. Girls’ primary school attendance has been improving, but this has not been the case for girls from the poorest households.

Just this week, the Kaduna State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajia Hafsat Baba, said people buy and sell children, especially female children, like groundnuts in the state. Describing this as extremely worrisome, she said this must not be allowed to continue.

According to Asmau Benzies Leo, the Head of Gender and Vulnerable Group Care Unit for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), poverty and illiteracy are the two greatest underlying factors responsible for the several problems bedeviling the region. “Parents see it as their primary responsibility to give out their female children in marriage as early as possible.

They don’t see this as a problem. For them it is a protective measure, seeing education as corruption for female children. They believe if the girl-child goes to school, her eyes will become ‘opened’ making her unmarriageable. In fact, most believe that the girl-child’s first menstrual period should occur in her husband’s house and so you see female children as young as 10 married already.”

Pointing out that illiteracy and poverty is very high in the North, she says it is responsible for the appalling number of out of school children the region battles with presently. Coupled with incessant Boko Haram attacks, the girl-child suffers on all fronts. Long before the brazen kidnap of the Chibok girls, it wasn’t uncommon for young schoolgirls to be kidnapped and forcefully married off.

“The girl child’s parents fear sending her to school so she is not kidnapped or harmed. In turn, she is given out in early marriage to maintain her sexual purity where she begins to have children while she is still a child.

This is a matter of deep concern to us because it is jeopardizing the future of the average Nigerian girl-child.

“If she is not educated and empowered, it will tell on the economy in the next 20 years because these are children that have no skills, been taught nothing and know nothing apart from how to have children. This is why the North has the highest rate of maternal mortality and infanticide and why the population of the region is spiraling out of control. The elites have four or five kids while the masses have 30, 40 children, children they cannot care for. These children grow up and start roaming the streets, eventually taking to crime.

“Part of our SDG goals is eradicating illiteracy and reducing maternal and infant mortality but with what is on ground presently, it is not possible to achieve these goals,” she noted.

“How does the almajiri system thrive? Women are having more kids that they can cater for and they are forced to give them up to roam the streets where they become easy tools for violence and crime. These children do not go to school, they have no quality of life and this will come back to bite all of us if we don’t tackle it head on now.”

In north-eastern Nigeria, conflict has deprived many children of access to education. Teachers have been killed and schools burned down or closed for security reasons. During her recent visit to Nigeria, education activist, Malala Yousafzai met with girls displaced by the Boko Haram crisis. While in Maiduguri, the hot-bed of the crisis in northeast Nigeria, Malala visited schoolchildren in a camp for displaced families and secondary school girls at Yerwa Government Girls School.

“Nigeria is the richest country in Africa, but has more girls out of school than any country in the world,” said Yousafzai. “Studies are clear-educating girls grows economies, reduces conflict and improves public health. For these girls and for their country’s future, Nigeria’s leaders must immediately prioritise education.”

Among primary school-aged children not in school, only five per cent are dropouts: three-quarters of them will never step foot in a classroom, and the majority are girls. Across West Africa, 46 per cent of primary school-aged children not in school are Nigerian. Globally, one in five children not enrolled are Nigerian.

“We will do everything in our power to make sure all children can keep learning. We believe that education, especially for girls, is the single most important way to bring hope, peace and prosperity not just for this generation, but for also for future generations,” said Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF’s Representative in Nigeria.

In commemoration of the International Day of the Girl Child, the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team held the Smart Teens Advocacy Initiative (STAI), a peer educator’s session on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV).

Held at Dolphin Senior High School, Lagos Island, there were over 400 Senior Secondary School Students in attendance drawn from different schools in Education District 3. Focusing on sensitizing students on how to avoid being victims of sexual abuse, self-defense and how to preserve evidence when physically or sexually assaulted was also taught.

Girls in particular, were armed with information required to ensure that their rights are adequately safeguarded and protected, seeing as the Nigerian girl child is the most vulnerable group in the society.

Pointing out that 1 in 4 children would be abused before the age of 18, the head of the DSVRT, Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi said looking out for and protecting the girl child has become more imperative than ever in a bid to curb growing violence and hostility against her.



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