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Time to boost the girl child

By Editorial Board
27 November 2022   |   4:10 am
The story of the Nigerian girl child as told by Khadija Badamasi, from Yobe State is, to say the least, pathetic. But it is more worrisome because that story represents the picture of exploitation...

girl-child education.

The story of the Nigerian girl child as told by Khadija Badamasi, from Yobe State is, to say the least, pathetic. But it is more worrisome because that story represents the picture of exploitation of the girl-child everywhere in the country where they find themselves in poverty-stricken homes. Sadly, too many girls are in poverty by mere reason of their parentage and Nigeria’s structural defects; Nigeria as a country is the poverty capital of the world, being home to more poor people than any country in the world.

According to a parliamentarian, a girl champion from Yobe state, Khadija Badamasi, who painted a deplorable situation facing the girl child in Yobe state said: “Yobe state where I hail from, due to poverty, has the largest number of child brides in the North East. In my community, most people are farmers, and due to poverty, parents borrow money to cultivate their farms. During harvest, if the father is unable to pay back the loan, a father usually takes the decision to give out his daughter in marriage, regardless of her age, to a man old enough to be her father or grandfather.”

It is lamentable that even in the 21st century, the girl-child in Nigeria continues to be subjected to early marriage, an action that is usually against her wish and interest. The tragedy of under-aged girls being betrothed to old men is wicked. Unfortunately, the practice seems to be encouraged, even supported, by politicians and public office holders who, hiding under customs and religion, shy away from domesticating the Child Rights Act, many years after its enactment by federal lawmakers. Also, public office holders have paid more lip service than concrete actions to eradicating poverty, which has been identified to be a main cause of exploitation and abuse of the girl-child, as gleaned from Khadija’s testimony. Over the years, child marriage has caused more harm than good in the society apart from its violating the Child Rights Act. And the northern part of the country is more guilty of the unwholesome practice.

The unpalatable statistics of the ugly consequences of under-age marriages of girls should serve as wake up calls for all state governors.

Khadija’s testimony took place the other day when members of children parliament have raised the alarm over the girl child being married off to pay debt, at a roundtable organised by Save the Children International (SCI) to commemorate the 10th anniversary of International Day of the Girl-Child. The betrothal of under aged girls to old men for economic reasons is indefensible in this age and time and should be condemned and treated as a crime against humanity.

Both the federal and state governments should be concerned about failure of the mechanism provided by government to protect the girl child especially girls from rural areas and less privilege homes, forced into premature marriage, making nonsense of the Child Rights Act. The law makes provisions to “protect the rights of a Nigerian child”. Section 1 of the Act provides: “In every action concerning a child, whether undertaken by an individual, public or private body, institutions or service, court of law, or administrative authority, the best interest of the child shall be primary consideration”. In this regard, what is paramount to the girl child in Nigeria and particularly in Yobe state now, which should be in their best interest, is their education and not marriage. Education should be revolutionised for the girl child’s sake because, as the saying goes, when you educate a women, you educate a whole community.

In further pursuance of the rights of the child, Section 21 of the Child Rights Act forbids in clear terms marriage of any person under the age of 18 years. It states: “No person under the age of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid marriage, and accordingly, a marriage so contracted is null and of no effect whatsoever”. Also, Section 23 penalises marriage or promotion of marriage to a person under the age of 18 years. According to the Section: “A person (a) who marries a child, or (b) to whom a child is betrothed, or (c) who promotes the marriage of a child, or (d) who betroths a child, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000; or imprisonment for a term of five years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”

Sadly, the crisis of the girl child is compounded by the inability of the beautifully crafted laws to translate into stopping the menace of underage marriage in the country. Underage marriage places girls in difficult and disadvantage position and lifelong consequences ranging from sexual exploitation, violence and abuse of all sorts. They lose their childhood; they are robbed of education, making their future endangered. In many cases, child brides are often unable to negotiate safe sexual practices and are therefore at a higher risk of sexually transmitted infections.

Clearly, poverty is linked to children being betrothed at tender age. Hence this year’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty with the theme “Dignity for all” should be a rallying cry for urgent global action, especially Nigeria. Unfortunately, Nigeria has more poor people than anywhere in the world, having overtaken India in the last few years. The poor father sees the girl child as the best option to escape from poverty by marrying her off irrespective of age. The federal government should therefore focus on action to invest in people-centred solutions particularly for the girl child; from providing healthcare and decent work, to gender equality, social protection and education among others.

Also the wave of terrorist activities in the north has reached a point where more answers than questions should be provided to the public by the federal government and the security agencies. Insecurity has been one of the factors worsening poverty in the country. The people cannot access their farm and in most cases farmers have to pay terrorists to be able to farm. What government or intends to do should be seen to be urgently done. One safe way of guarding against child marriage is for government to invest heavily on education. Just as expressed by Khadija, the child bride is treated like a slave with no respect of any kind because of how she was betrothed. The girl child, just like the boy, has a right to security and education, and also deserves to live a healthy life.

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