Girl-child day: Nothing to celebrate, our girls have been left behind, advocates lament

• Experts harp on improved girl-child education for national development
• Groups sensitise female students on rights, self-belief, s3x education

As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to commemorate the International Day of the Girl-Child (IDGC) today, child advocates in the country have lamented that there is little to celebrate as the country ranks bottom six globally in child welfare, and bottom 10 for girls flourishing, an index that may be exacerbated by the pandemic and cultural inhibitions of the girl-child.

They also warned that the country may remain underdeveloped if it fails to address the problems of marginalisation, abuse and exploitation of the girl-child. They maintained that girls should be entitled to a life free of violence and discrimination, and deserve equal opportunity for access to education and health to prepare them as future leaders.

Secretary of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Agency, Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, pointed out that the issues hampering the girl-child are still very much in place and the last few years have seen a steady rise in the number of girls being sexually abused and suffering other forms of abuse and molestations.

According to her, 2,146 girls have suffered abuse in the last two years while almost 300 suffered defilement and rape.

“Girl children are facing emotional abuse, molestation, harassment, child abuse, neglect and zero parental care in addition to the already pre-existing issues they face. We have to do more to stem this deplorable number of rising abuse our girl children are facing and it behooves everyone to play their part.”

Parenting educator, children’s rights expert and Co-founder S.A.F.E@ for Children Society, Taiwo Akinlami, said, “the Nigerian girl child is seriously endangered and under threat. Available statistics show that Nigeria has over 23 million female children and less than half of this number have access to education or basic things of life.

“Before we address this year’s theme of Digital Generation, Our Generation, we must first address these fundamental issues before talking about any digitilisation. About 14 million children are out of school according to UNESCO, and of this number, over 60 per cent are girls. In the northern part of the country, just about 20 per cent of girls have access to education and can read or write. They have either never been to school or dropped out very early.

“When COVID-19 hit last year, the numbers got worse and the implication is that it is affecting our human and national development. When girls are educated, it would reduce teenage pregnancy, helps them become more self-reliant and committed to the nation’s progress.

“When girls are denied education, you are denying roughly half of the nation’s population from being emancipated and preventing progress. Until we generate public will, we cannot generate political will to force our leaders to do the right thing.”

Continuing, Akinlami said: “This day calls for sober reflection because looking at the state of our education and health, it is in dire emergency. The Nigerian girl child is dealing with a plethora of issues and till today, many girls still struggle with sanitary health, zero access to sanitary hygiene and products, and miss school due to this as well as lack of toilets.

“As we speak, girls that get pregnant are still being expelled from school and according to the Child Rights Act (CRA), this shouldn’t be so. The inequality girls suffer is too much. As an organisation, we identified the following – poverty, gender-based violence, sexual and physical abuse, neglect and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – as stumbling blocks.

“Before we move to digitalise Nigerian girls, we must first tackle these obstacles that hinder their progress. As the world advances digitally, Nigerian girls are completely left behind and the only way to bridge this gap is to first understand the implications of this neglect and what it portends,” he said.

An educationist and founder, Child Aid, Dr Mobolaji Agbaje, said the girl-child must be protected and given equal opportunities as their male counterparts.

“In Nigeria, it is a struggle for girls to survive childhood. They face multiple and systemic violence, abuse, and neglect based on their gender.

“They are victims of growing sexual abuse and exploitation, including human trafficking, abuse as domestic help, female genital cuttings, as well as early and forced marriages, among other harmful and discriminatory social norms,” she added.

Similarly, a public analyst, Ebun Phillips, urged the Federal and state Governments to increase their investment in gender-responsive public education and support all efforts to eliminate religious and cultural barriers.

She said apart from strengthening existing institutions to protect girls from all forms of gender-based violence, implementation of child rights policy to protect the rights of all females should be prioritised.

She lamented that girls were still behind their male counterparts in key development indices, adding that in the World Bank’s literacy rate, females from 15 years and above in Nigeria were reported at 52.66 per cent against the 71.26 per cent for males of the same age.

Also, Nigeria’s 40 million women of childbearing age (between 15 and 49 years of age) suffer a disproportionally high level of health issues surrounding birth. While the country represents 2.4 per cent of the world’s population, it currently contributes 10 per cent of global deaths for pregnant mothers.

Latest figures show a maternal mortality rate of 576 per 100,000 live births, the fourth highest on earth. Each year, approximately 262,000 babies die at birth, the world’s second highest national total.

Nigeria accounts for more than one in five out-of-school children in the world. Although primary education is officially free and compulsory, only 67 per cent of eligible children take up a place in primary school.

Girls suffer more than boys in terms of missing out on education. In the Northeast, only 41 per cent of eligible girls receive primary education and 47 per cent in the Northwest. Social attitudes also impact negatively on education rates, especially in northern Nigeria.

Nigerian children are vulnerable to a wide range of abuses and harmful traditional practices. The national legal framework for child protection is the Child Rights Act 2003, but to date, only 23 of 36 states have adopted the Act. Implementation is patchy with many local authority bodies unaware of their duties under the law.

A national survey in 2018 found that six out of 10 children reported having suffered one or more forms of violence before reaching 18 years of age, with 70 per cent of those experiencing multiple incidents of violence.

The country also has the largest number of child brides in Africa: 23 million girls and women were married as children.
At 27 per cent, the prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) among girls and women aged 15-49 years is lower than in many countries where the practice is carried out, but Nigeria still has the third highest absolute number of women and girls (19.9 million), who have undergone FGM/C worldwide.

It is more commonly practised in the South, driven by grandmothers and mothers-in-law aiming to curb promiscuity or prepare girls for marriage in conformity with tradition.

On her part, Dr Patience Ego, appealed to parents and society to give the girl-child a voice, opportunities and empowerment towards building capacities to thrive like everyone else and bridge the gender inequality gap in leadership.

As special gifts from God, she added that the girl-child deserves all the love and attention like her male counterpart and should have equal access to everything.

Samuel Ajayi, Project Coordinator, Human Development Initiative (HDI), underscored the rights of the girl-child to basic education, saying it is important for them to have information on their right to education.

He said: “It is important to provide the girl-child with information on their right to education as a fundamental human right. Also, to teach them morals concerning other people’s right to education.”

TO commemorate the IDGC, Gaap Foundation, at the weekend, sensitised female students from three orphanage homes, The Divine Heritage homes, Ijamido homes and Bola-Mofo Zion Center in Lagos on sex education and self-belief. A nurse and midwife, Mary Osemeka, spoke to the girls on menstrual hygiene and safety precautions while menstruating to avoid infections and tips on how to ease menstrual pains and avoid drug abuse.

Speaking on the theme, ‘Dreamer’s World’, member of Gaap Board of Trustees, Boye Falonipe, an engineer, said: “Everyone is born with the ability to imagine; so, continue to dream, continue to imagine, because it is a dreamer’s world. There is no place you want to get to that your mind does not go first.”

He urged them to be disciplined, consistent, courageous and continue to stay true to their convictions and never give up on their dreams.

Falonipe also urged the government and parents to introduce sex education in their homes to avoid misconception by the children because this is a digitialised world.

Also, a member of the Nigeria Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Noibi Aramide Tola, urged the students to avoid bad peers and be mindful of their dressing.

MEANWHILE, the Society of Women Accountants of Nigeria (SWAN), a subsidiary of Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), has donated 50 copies of literature books to the library of Holy Child College, Lagos.

President of SWAN, Catherine Nnaji, said the donation was to promote reading culture among female students and boost their morale and self-esteem.

According to her, empowered girls have the ability to take care of themselves without going cap in hand to beg for support from anyone, who may want to use that as an opportunity to take advantage of them.  She said: “I want you to know that it is your right to be trained and empowered, and that it is not an anomaly to raise and address challenges that are peculiar to the girl child.”

The day of the girl-child could be described as the brainchild of the World Conference on Women. In 1995, at the conference in Beijing, it was decided that October 11, each year, would be dedicated to the growth of girls around the world. As a result, countries unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. This made the declaration the first of its kind, in that it separated the girl-child from the umbrella of women and acknowledged their specific needs.

The day focuses on the rights, safety and education of girls. The core objective is to make girls an active part of the progress of the world.

This year’s theme, ‘Digital generation, our generation,’ acknowledges the growing digital world and how a digital gap can also widen the gender gap. In accordance with this year’s theme, the focus is on bridging the digital divide.

According to the United Nations, even in the post-COVID-19 world that saw businesses, education and even parts of healthcare services moving online, “2.2 billion people below the age of 25 still do not have Internet access at home.”

The report further noted that girls are more likely to be cut off, pointing to a gender divide within the digital divide. It was also stated that girls are less likely than boys to “use and own devices.” This, in turn, affects their numbers in “tech-related skills and jobs.”

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