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AU parleys CSOs, religious leaders in Nigeria to end child marriage

By Tina Abeku, Abuja
11 November 2022   |   1:07 pm
With more girls and young women especially in northern Nigeria being affected by vesicovaginal fistula and a high rate of maternal and infant mortality, the African Union delegation on protecting the rights of the child and ending female genital mutilation, has begun moves in partnership with Civil Society coalition in Nigeria as well as religious and traditional leaders to end child marriages in Nigeria.

*Lists dangers of female genital mutilation

With more girls and young women especially in northern Nigeria being affected by vesicovaginal fistula and a high rate of maternal and infant mortality, the African Union delegation on protecting the rights of the child and ending female genital mutilation, has begun moves in partnership with Civil Society coalition in Nigeria as well as religious and traditional leaders to end child marriages in Nigeria.

Leader of the AU delegation Hemine Kembo Gatsing, who is also representing the Head AU, said that part of their three-day mission in Nigeria is to meet with the CSOs coalition and other stakeholders such as the traditional and religious leaders towards straightening the AU’s campaign to end child marriage and address the damaging impact of female genital mutilation.

She said “our mission started with a discussion with the National Human Rights Commission, (NHRC), now we are meeting with the CSOs, traditional rulers and other stakeholders to understand some of the community-driven innovative approaches they are adopting as well as other models they are testing.

According to her, community-driven initiatives could prove more effective in reaching out to the locals and enlightening them through their traditional and religious leaders that are often held in high regard, on the negative impact of these harmful practices.

While noting the importance of harmonizing laws in this regard for effective coordination, she said “One of the core interventions of civil societies in this endeavour is according support such as psychosocial support and provision of safe spaces or shelter to victims of some of these harmful practices. Because most often the impact on the child is unimaginable especially when such issues arise in the family context and the child is no longer comfortable interacting with His or her family or is neglected hence needing the intervention of some civil society organizations before mediation is done,” she said.

Co-chair of CSOs Coalition, Carolyn Seaman, pointed out that a lot still needs to be done to mobilize action around getting all the states to domesticate the Child Rights Act, (CRA), but a more challenging issue at hand now is understanding the act that is being domesticated as well as ensuring its effective implementation by the states.

She said, “As civil societies, I think our big concern now is not just getting the states to sign up and domesticate this Act but understanding the substance in these laws that are being domesticated in some of the states especially some of the states in the north that re still significantly and consciously excluding the marriage age of the child, a child should not be married as long as she or he is not up to eighteen years and many of the laws don’t state that.”

Another co-chair of the coalition, Kolawole Olatosimi explained that what most CSOs in communities with the prevalence of such cases do is provide safe spaces to victims, and offer to counsel to both victims and their families but stated that a major challenge to many CSOs is funding, a situation that has forced many to look inward for self-sustaining options instead of depending on donors to run their activities

He said “some of the strategies CSO adopt in the communities is the conditional cash transfer which states that for parents to access the cash, their girl child must attain secondary school or meet some other such conditions. This is apart from our safe spaces programs which often cover pregnant young girls.

One of the religious as well as traditional rulers, Sani Umar Jabbi, said that most of the states in northern Nigeria have domesticated the CRA and are already working to eradicate such harmful practices in their communities.

He said that as leaders, they are working to enlighten their communities of the dangers of these practices and are encoring parents to send their girls to schools where they can be of benefit to their communities in their chosen professions, as nurses or medical doctors.