HOME FRONT Where are the girls?

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Boys and girls face con­flict. But each girl fac­ing con­flict is 2% more likely to drop out of school in times of con­flict than a boy in the same sit­u­a­tion.

The re­sult: fu­ture prospect for work and fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence is com­pro­mised, ac­cord­ing to Christo­pher Thorn­ley, Canada’s high com­mis­sioner to Nige­ria.

He was speak­ing dur­ing cel­e­bra­tions by Plan In­ter­na­tional Nige­ria to mark the In­ter­na­tional Day of the Girl Child in Abuja re­cently.

With poor prospects for a fu­ture and in­de­pen­dence, many girls fall prey to parental and so­ci­etal pres­sure and go into mar­riage.

West Africa hosts at least six coun­tries that con­trib­ute the high­est global bur­den of early mar­riages.

In Nige­ria alone, more than six mil­lion girls are out of school, most of them leav­ing school for an early mar­riage, says the in­ter­na­tional char­ity or­gan­i­sa­tion, Save the Chil­dren.

It has neg­a­tive im­pacts on ed­u­ca­tion out­comes for girls: they are at in­creased risk of fall­ing preg­nant at young ages, not com­plet­ing ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion or drop­ping out of school en­tirely.

The char­ity’s direc­tor in Nige­ria, Mau­reen Nz­eribe, says the sit­u­a­tion is also re­spon­si­ble for a re­cur­ring cy­cle of il­lit­er­acy, poverty, lack of eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity and en­trenched gen­der gaps.

Cul­tural, re­li­gious and tra­di­tional norms have his­tor­i­cally been the root causes for an early mar­riage­and con­tinue to hin­der full devel­op­ment of girls.

“Early mar­riage has been one of the ma­jor prob­lems im­ped­ing the en­rol­ment of girls in school.

“The ma­jor rea­sons why women give out their fe­male chil­dren out early in mar­riage is be­cause of poverty and ig­no­rance,” said Nz­eribe.

Nearly ev­ery other char­ity has at least one pro­ject tar­get­ing young girls and women for em­pow­er­ment and en­light­en­ment.

The cam­paign is to let par­ents know the dan­gers of giv­ing out their daugh­ters out in early mar­riage.

But the world of devel­op­ment con­sid­ers women as hav­ing half the skills, work­force, knowl­edge and ca­pac­ity in the world.

Devel­op­ment pro­grammes say that girls are the en­gine of na­tional devel­op­ment and so the need to pro­mote girlchild ed­u­ca­tion in pre­par­ing them for a bet­ter fu­ture.

“Many on­go­ing pro­grammes and poli­cies are yet to open to the other half of the pop­u­la­tion who are voice­less and al­most ir­re­deemable which are of­ten women and girls in con­flicts and com­pro­mised sit­u­a­tion,” said Nkoyo Toyo, a spe­cial ad­viser to Cross River State govern­ment on Mil­len­nium Devel­op­ment Goals.

The call for sup­port­ing girls is grow­ing louder.

“There should be a re­newed com­mit­ment and im­me­di­ate ac­tion to en­sure the right of ev­ery girl for ed­u­ca­tion is re­spected, pro­tected and ful­filled,” said Nz­eribe.

“Na­tional and state level in­vest­ments on ed­u­ca­tion should be in­creased with an aim to im­prove the qual­ity and accessibility of an af­ford­able pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, in­clud­ing in­creas­ing the num­ber of fe­male teach­ers, and re­in­forc­ing teach­ers’ code of con­duct,” she said.

That would in­clude leg­is­la­tion and poli­cies to pro­tect women and girls. Many have been do­mes­ti­cated, passed into law or stalling in leg­isla­tive pipe­lines. But im­ple­ment­ing those al­ready in force is still un­cer­tain.

Yet the call con­tin­ues for stronger laws and poli­cies to sup­port eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment for women, en­sure the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the re­cent Na­tional Gen­der Pol­icy 2014 and the Vi­o­lence Against Per­sons Pro­hi­bi­tion ( VAPP).

The Gen­der and Equal­ity Bill is yet to be ap­proved by the Na­tional Assem­bly.

The In­ter­na­tional Day of the Girl Child which is a day set aside for the girl-child helps bring em­pha­sis on the plight of grow­ing up as a girl in the world.

And un­for­tu­nately more girls con­tinue to fall into that cat­e­gory, with noth­ing done to change their fu­ture.

“Fol­low­ing the cur­rent birth rate by 2050, Nige­ria will ac­count for al­most one­tenth of all births in the world but de­spite this grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of ado­les­cents, there are lim­ited tar­get poli­cies and pro­grammes to sup­port them,” said Hus­saini Abdu, coun­try direc­tor for Plan In­ter­na­tional Nige­ria.

Since 2012, the Day has high­lighted chal­lenges girls face and pro­mote girls’ em­pow­er­ment to ful­fill their hu­man rights, cit­ing one girl at a time.

“In­vest­ments in girls dur­ing their ado­les­cent years par­tic­u­larly for the poor­est and most vul­ner­a­ble have trans­for­ma­tive im­pact on health, ed­u­ca­tion and eco­nomic out­comes, not just for them but for their com­mu­ni­ties, econ­omy and their coun­tries,” said Thorn­ley.

“It is not just a so­cial pro­gramme but an eco­nomic pro­gramme and that is why we sup­port the girl-child in Nige­ria,” Abdu said.

A cross sec­tion of par­tic­i­pants dur­ing the 2017 In­ter­na­tional Day of the Girl or­gan­ised by PLAN INT. in Abuja yes­ter­day.

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