HOME FRONT Where are the girls?
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.