The National Child Welfare Policy of 1989 defines a child as anybody who is 12 years or below. However, a draft decree put into law has now set the age of the child in Nigeria as 18 years or below. It is pertinent to note that this age definition of the Convention is already in practice under municipal laws.
The International Day of the Girl Child is here again (every 11th October with this year’s theme- Our Voice, Our Equal Future) as it focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote Girls’ Empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights. This article is committed to celebrating this day by amplifying the voices and rights of girls everywhere; that all girls have access to quality education and a dignified life. This is also a day to highlight girls’ needs and the particular problems they can face, and drive efforts that meet these needs and fulfill their rights – not benevolently for them, but in partnership with them. This is because the Girl Child is not a stranger or someone far away. The Girl Child is your Daughter, your Sister and your Mother who gave birth to you and your Wife was once a girl child. As a result, there is no gain saying that if the Girl Child is effectively supported during the adolescent years, they have the potential to change the world – both as the empowered girls of today and as tomorrow’s workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household partners and political leaders.
The Children’s Rights Act of 2003 expands the human rights bestowed to citizens in Nigeria’s 1999 constitution as amended to children. To this end, this article examines the application of girl-child rights in Nigeria. Let me clearly state that the rights of the girl-child in Nigeria continues to be violated despite the very many provisions of the law guaranteeing such rights in domestic and international instruments. In my opinion, these violations persist because of various factors such as the patriarchal social system adopted in Nigeria, the very high illiteracy rate of the Nigerian public especially in the rural area, our ever present customary laws which treat the girl-child and in fact women generally as subservient to the man and with limited opportunities under custom to maximize potentials, the various religious beliefs that insist that a woman’s individuality should be subject to the man who is superior and so on. Going further however, probing the application of girl-child rights in Nigeria; you find that despite the copious provision of rights in various Statute books, these laws remain very remote to the average Nigerian especially in the rural areas where customary law still holds sway. You will also discover that the pervasive culture of silence in the face of violations borne out of fear of possible stigma coupled with great poverty resulting from customarily conspired rules which deny the girl-child the right to engage in some economic activities or even to enjoy the proceeds of efforts in the presence of the men-folk have continually guaranteed the continued violations of the rights of the girl-child.
Furthermore; according to verified data, Nigeria has a population of about 200million people with 46% currently under the age of 15. The current total for children under the age of 5 stands at nearly 31 million while each year at least 7 million babies are born.
According to UNICEF, 44% of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday and 18% are married before the age of 15. The UNICEF report also states that Nigeria has the third highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 3,538,000 – and the 11th highest prevalence rate of child marriage globally. Child marriage is most common in the North West and North East of Nigeria, where 68% of women aged 20-49 were married before their 18th birthday. Child marriage is particularly common among Nigeria’s poorest and rural households. Now, do you know that a 2017 World Bank study estimates that child marriage costs Nigeria USD7.6 billion in lost earnings and productivity every year? In addition, succinctness would fail me to give details of other challenges the Girl Child faces today in Nigeria and globally such as:
i) Access to Education (most times caused by giving the male-child education priority, early marriage/ early pregnancy / early child birth).
ii) Employment Opportunities (some folks may even say- “a woman can’t do this job”).
iii) Gender Based Violence ( 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, according to WHO. Ranging from domestic abuse to rape, or sexual trafficking).
iv) Reproductive Health and Rights ( helping women take charge of their body reduces unsafe abortion and reduces Maternal death by over 70%).
v) Female Genital Mutilation/ Circumcision (this cultural / religious practise, is non-medical, it can expose the lady to medical issues such as VVF(Vesico Vaginal Fistula). It should be stopped! )
vi) Poor Sanitation (as girls in school needs proper convenience for hygiene reasons and especially during their period).
And many other challenges that results just because they are girl.
To this end, we need clear pathway to societal adherence to the Rights and Empowerment of the Girl Child. Nigeria has been showing pockets of commitments to this cause. In 2001 Nigeria ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage. Nigeria has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). But more work has to be done. The Children’s Rights Act of 2003 was passed into law at the Federal level, but it would only be effective if State Assemblies also codify the law. This is one of the reasons I, Rt. Hon. Chima Obieze, working with The Enugu State House of Assembly and the Executive Governor- Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; would take it up to review the extent of the law in Enugu State and move for possible adjustments and domestication.
Friends, to promote and ensure the right of the Girl Child as well as Empowerment is a collective effort of every citizen in this country and the Government can intervene in the following ways:
1) Strengthened legislative and institutional frameworks to protect children vulnerable and exposed to violence, abuse and exploitation.
2) Strengthened capacities of government and key stakeholders, including social welfare and justice services that prevent and respond to violence against children (especially the Girl Child)
3) Supporting the development, coordination and implementation of an inter-sectoral national social norms change strategy to end violence against children including child marriage, FGM/C(Female Genital Mutilation/Circumcission) and other harmful traditional practices.
4) Strengthening the birth registration system to scale up the registration of children under age five years, with focus on children under one.
5) Ensuring children in humanitarian situations (like the IDPs) have timely and sustained access to quality preventive and responsive child protection services.
6) A National Children’s Commission should be set up for defending the rights of the girl child in an educational, social, cultural, political, and economic context.
In all, as we commemorate the International Girl Child day today, We owe our daughters, sisters, wives and mothers to be; a duty to ensure they grow into an uninitimidated, unbroken and whole woman, an ideal Nigerian woman. We all should consistently advocate for the Empowerment and Rights of the Girl Child, the Nigerian Girl Child and we must reiterate the reality that a psychologically whole Nigerian Girl Child is a psychologically whole Nigerian Woman’s tomorrow.
Happy International Girl Child Day!