Empowering the girl-child for national development — The PUNCH Editorial

Posted by News Express | 12 October 2021 | 259 times

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•Students of Abeokuta Girls Grammer School, Onikolobo Abeokuta. Photo: Daud Olatunji. The PUNCH.

 

AS Nigeria joins the rest of the world to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child on Monday (today), efforts must be renewed and sustained to frontally tackle the challenges facing the girl-child in the country.

For long, the girl-child in Africa’s most populous country has been faced with problems ranging from sexual abuse, lack of education, gender-based violence, religious and cultural biases, early/child marriage, discrimination, and undernourishment, to female genital mutilation. These setbacks thus impede her development and stunt equality with the opposite gender in a society rooted in patriarchal idiosyncrasies and gender stereotypes.

A reversal of gender unfairness globally is what the United Nations sought during its General Assembly on December 19, 2011, when it adopted Resolution 66/170 to declare October 11 each year as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognise girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.

Girls are distinct in diverse ways and their inimitable impacts are striking in households, society, and the economy upon transition into adulthood. Societies advance rapidly and humanity ultimately finds its humanness when the girl-child is genuinely empowered to attain her full potential. Healthy and educated girls translate to healthier families.

The UN Women succinctly captured the exclusivity of the girl-child when it noted, “Girls are leaders. Girls are change-makers. Girls are driving good and growth around the world. They are a fundamental source of transformational change for gender equality…” Studies by the United Nations Development Programme have conclusively demonstrated a correlation between high levels of girl-child welfare and higher human development indices, while countries with wider gender inequality perform poorly in HDI.

Sadly, Nigeria has yet to internalise this reality. Instead, it continues to pay lip service to the development of the girl-child. A UNICEF report notes that girls suffer more than boys in Nigeria in terms of missing out on education. In the North-East, only 41 per cent of eligible girls receive primary education and 47 per cent in the North-West. The situation is quite alarming because Nigeria accounts for more than one in five out-of-school children worldwide.

The girl-child in Nigeria is exposed to diverse abuses and harmful traditional practices. Nigeria pretends to be concerned about curbing the problems hindering the growth of the girl-child but foot-drags at every opportunity to make an outstanding change. It adopted the Child Rights Act in 2003 at the national level, but to date, UNICEF notes that only 23 of 36 the states have domesticated the law, which is the national legal framework for child protection. Some of the states that had domesticated the Act are negligent in implementation, thus creating a fertile ground for sustained barriers to the ability of the girl-child to achieve her full potential.

The practice of forcefully turning children to brides ought to be reversed forthwith to give the girl-child a voice to set goals, pursue her dreams and reach the pinnacle of her career. Globally, an estimated 650 million girls and women alive today were married at childhood, with about half of those occurring in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, and Nigeria. Nigeria has the largest number of child-brides in Africa, with about 23 million girls and women married as children, according to UNICEF. That is disturbing. The body warned that globally, 10 million additional child marriages may occur before the end of the decade, threatening years of progress in reducing the practice.

Also, rape of the girl-child is routine in the country and government at all levels appearing powerless to halt the menace. Poorly trained, unruly boys, including some randy elders, take advantage of the country’s defective structure and structurally deficient policing structure to sexually abuse the girl-child, including the underage. The victims endure physical, physiological, and emotional torture.

Many victims suffer in silence for fear of stigmatisation and those bold enough are often subjected to ridicule; many do not get justice while their abusers walk freely to prey on more victims. State actors must do everything within the law to protect the girl-child. Stronger laws must be enacted, and existing ones reinforced to punish rapists and deter aspiring ones. There should be special courts to speedily try rape suspects. Those convicted should be named and shamed by publishing their names in a sex offenders’ register.

In a state like Gombe where a rape epidemic has been reported by the state police command, about 250 rape cases occurred between January and December last year. The state government should deploy every arsenal at its disposal to tackle the trend. It must be firm, deliberate, and total in its countermeasures. The state, like other undecided states in the North, should urgently domesticate the CRA to defend the girl-child. The states have a duty to adopt the sex offenders’ register as Ekiti State has commendably done. It has also variously prosecuted rapists, named and shamed those convicted. Other states should adopt this strategy and in addition, routinely share information on the identities and movement of known sexual predators. This tactic has delivered effective law enforcement outcomes in the United States and European Union countries.

Harmful and primitive methods and practices against the girl-child should be discarded and replaced with refined social norms and practices. In parts of the South-East, an archaic cultural practice denying the girl-child of inheritance has been abolished by the Supreme Court; it should be sustained through vigilance by victims, and civil society organisations. State governments should enforce the court’s ruling to deepen the principle of gender balancing. The Federal Government should go further than its call to Nigerians to protect the girl-child and end gender-based violence in the country. It should move beyond advocacy and take firm actions to establish its resolve.

Governments must join forces to empower the girl-child to express and exercise her rights and support the implementation of suitable laws and policies in her favour.


Source: News Express

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