By Adenike Thomas
According to a recent UNICEF data, in Nigeria, women and girls constitute 60% of the illiterate population. Similarly, a 2005 UNICEF records also showed that 4.7million Nigerian children were out of school, out of which 60% were females. Yet another UNICEF data revealed that about 10.5 million Nigerian children of school age were out of school in 2015 out which 65% fall into the female category.
Without doubt, the girl-child faces tough times in terms of getting un-hindered access to education. Ironically, in any society, education remains a vital tool through which the citizenry could positively contribute to nation building. It is on the basis of this conviction that our founding fathers gave prominent attention to education. They had the foresight to realize that desired high quality workforce, an enlightened citizenry, without which national development is impossible, could only be guaranteed by investing in education.
Education is essential for economic, social and cultural development of all societies. Without it, the citizens cannot flourish and the nation cannot record consequential development. It is, therefore, incontestable that for individuals, education is the ladder of opportunity. For communities, it is the base of common values that holds diverse people together. For nations, it is the engine of economic growth. And for all who believe in freedom, education provides the moral foundation for democracy guided by respect for individual dignity and the rule of law.
Unfortunately, in our nation today, it is this fundamental means for personal growth and societal advancement that the Nigerian girl-child is being frustrated in securing. The benefits accruable to the Girl Child if properly educated are, no doubt, enormous. For one, good education could easily translate into increase in the number of ladies with the prospect of securing high profile jobs as well as higher earnings. Consequently, young ladies and women could become productive and able to live independent lives, without necessarily being burdens to others. They wouldn’t have to depend on anyone before they could access the basic necessities of life.
Perhaps, more importantly, they won’t have to endure the pain of being side-tracked when it comes to taking part in vital nation building process. The implication of this is that they could become productive professionals in any field, thereby contributing their own quota to national development. With good education, they could get involved in the political process and make huge impact in public governance as being experienced in Germany and Brazil. Similarly, in the area of birth control, the educated female, due to the knowledge she had gotten in school would have been matured and ripe enough by the time she decides to get married. She also would know the health and economic benefits of family planning. Through this, she would be able to give birth to fewer and healthier children. This is in sharp contrast to the uneducated ones who do not understand the real essence of family planning; thereby giving birth to underfed and unhealthy children.
Also, an educated woman would have good knowledge of critical issues relating to life threatening diseases such as HIV/AIDS and the various ways by which they could be prevented. She would also share her knowledge as regards the virus with others and help those that have contracted it to live a stable life. She would also help to guide against stigmatization and help make the world a better place to live in. Educated women will be familiar with medical routines concerning themselves and their families, without being pushed to do so.
Considering the huge benefits that the child-girl tends to amass through unconstrained access to education, it is, therefore, very sad that a large proportion of them are denied access to education in our nation. The reasons for this sad reality are quite numerous and at the same time very complicated. Perhaps, the most pathetic of these is early marriage. Child marriage is a condemnable act, commonly practised in some of the country.
By international conventions, 18 years has been established as the legal age of consent to marriage. In Nigeria, the Child Rights Act, passed in 2003, raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 for girls, but in the Northern part of the country which has some of the highest rates of early marriage in the world, 48% of girls are married out as early as 15 years and below. This is due to the fact that since federal law may be implemented differently at the State level, only few States have begun developing provisions to execute the law.
Poverty occasioned by severe economic hardship, ignorance, influence of traditional belief and custom, bad government policies among others are some other factors that are responsible for the decline in girl-child education in the country. The way out is for government to improve the nation’s economy and banish poverty from the land.
Equally, there is need for strategic public enlightenment campaigns specifically designed to get the girl-child back in school. All stakeholders such as faith-based bodies, traditional institutions, government agencies, child right advocates, the media and NGOS should be involved in this noble cause. If our nation is to really attain unrestricted growth across all sectors, this is the time to decisively address the issue of decline in girl-child education in the country.
Ms Thomas writes from Lagos