By Bianca Iboma-Emefu
Goals 4, 5 and 10 of the Sustainable Development Goals are quality education, gender equality and reduced inequalities, respectively. But despite the national and international efforts at reducing the growing number of out-of-school children, especially among the depraved and underprivileged girls, statistics show that a huge percentage of girls are not exposed to formal education due to obnoxious cultural practices, poverty and other issues.
A classic example of how young girls are denied formal education is that of Bomiya Zidogua (not her real name), a teenage girl from Bayelsa State who lived at creek island. Her father tried to marry her off at a very young age so that the family could eke a living from the dowry and other gifts that would be presented to the family.
However, determined to stay in school, Bomiya refused the marriage and due to her determination to be educated, she and two other girls braved the obstacles of their poverty and their forced marriage, and completed their education. Today, they are change agents in their communities and are encouraging other young girls to be brave and not succumb to the pressure of poverty. To their credit, no child marriages have taken place in their surrounding villages in recent times. They accomplished what the law alone was not able to.
As the world marked the 10th anniversary of the International Day of the Girl-Child recently, experts and other stakeholders used the opportunity to brainstorm and proffer solutions on the way forward.
The commemoration with the theme: ‘Our Time is now — our rights, our future’ also served to assess the successes and challenges of the past 10 years with a view to taking the advocacy to greater heights. Some of the experts shared their views.
Risikat Adeola Adisa, the Executive Director/Founder of House of Rammah, blames poverty for the deplorable practice of girl-child forced marriages.
She said: “Child marriage is more than twice likely to occur in rural areas than in urban centres. Child marriage in Nigeria is wedded to poverty. It is a social malaise that limits education and economic opportunities for families and nations.”
Adisa, who is an education advocate, further stated that for the girl-child to live a more meaningful and productive life, they should be empowered academically, socially, and economically, even as she advocated for more orientation, counselling and supervision to enable young girls to follow the right path.
She further said: “We have to be intentional with our sensitisation method and eradicate child marriages. Girls should not be deprived of education, they should be equipped with skills and we should build a positive, environment for them to thrive.”
In the same vein, Olasumbomi Iginla-Aina, the minister of the State of the African Diaspora (SOAD), noted that girl-child education goes beyond getting girls into school, but also includes ensuring that girls learn and feel safe while in school.
According to her, girls should have the opportunity to complete all levels of education as well as acquire the knowledge and skills to compete in the labour market as well as gain socio-emotional and life skills that are necessary to navigate and adapt to a changing world and be in a position to make decisions about their own lives.
She said: “Girls often lag in school attendance, alleging that common gender norms in communities continue to put girls at a disadvantage, leading them to drop out of school at higher rates. “For instance, things like sanitary pads should be provided for girls, as some of them can stay away from school during their menstrual circle. Such norms also push parents to prioritise the education of their sons over their daughters, forcing the daughters into child marriage. “Every day, girls face barriers to education caused by poverty, cultural norms, poor infrastructure, violence and fragility.
“We need to prioritise education for girls, better educated women tend to be more informed about nutrition and healthcare, have fewer children and marry at a later age. Educated girls are better equipped to become healthier, more prosperous adults, with smaller families and children who are less at risk of illness and death and more likely to succeed. Women with a primary education earn 14 per cent to 19 per cent more than women with no education at all. And those with secondary education earn almost twice as much.”
For Seyi Sanjo-Bankole, executive director of the Centre for Youth Studies, there is a need for a holistic approach to the challenges of the girl-child, which would require a reorientation programme for parents of young children on the value of each child; targeted programmes for government grassroots aimed at integrating educational opportunities for the girl-child in rural communities; laws at the federal level prohibiting abuse of the girl-child via early marriage and denial of access to education.
She also canvassed that those who braved and overcame the challenges should be put in the spotlight to serve as an inspiration to others, even as better media coverage should be given to girl-child rights. “The louder the ‘noise’, the more difficult it would be to sweep the issues under the rug”, she said.