Salient health, human rights issue

… On Int’l Day of the Girl-Child

Marriage of girls less than 18 years is common worldwide and affects millions of them despite international agreements and national laws. Experts classify child marriage as a health and human rights issue.

According to child advocates, it is a human rights violation that prevents girls from obtaining education, enjoy optimal health, bond with others of their age, mature and ultimately choose their own life partners.

Children activists believe that the practice is driven by poverty and has several effects on girls’ health such as increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, malaria, death during childbirth and obstetric fistulas. Girls’ offspring are at increased risk for premature birth and death as neonates, infants or children.

Child marriage as a tradition driven by poverty is perpetuated to ensure girls’ financial future and to reinforce social ties. This belief may not be unconnected with the reason for the choice of this year’s event. Studies have also confirmed that one of the most effective methods of reducing child marriage and its health consequences is to mandate that girls stay in school.

Female students at an event
To stop child marriage, policies and programmes must educate communities, raise awareness, engage local and religious leaders, involve parents and empower girls through education and employment.

Activities commemorating this year’s International Day of the Girl Child ended Tuesday with the investiture of Mrs. Aisha Buhari, wife of the Nigerian President as the Grand Patron, High Level Women Advocates for Girls Education in Nigeria, during an advocacy visit of 50 adolescent girls to her.

The wife of the President at the interactive session with the girls promised to advocate publicly for legislation against child marriage. She encouraged parents to keep their daughters in school for at least 12 years. “No single girl will be left behind in my movement to get every girl into school,’ promised.

Based on the theme: “The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030,” UNICEF and other partners including the Federal Ministry of Education focused their activities on the transforming power of education to empower adolescent girls to overcome all challenges that affect their lives and inhibit their prospects of advancement.

The 2013 National Demographic Health Survey indicate that there are about 20 million adolescent girls in Nigeria and there is very low education rates among them especially those in the lowest wealth quintiles in the society. In Nigeria, 60 per cent of the 10.5 million children out of school are girls. Data indicate that among other factors, one reason for low enrolment and retention of girls in schools especially in the north is the lack of female teachers in the rural areas.

In response to this, UNICEF, with funding from the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and counterpart funding from five participating states started the Girls’ Education Project. The Girls’ Education Project Phase 3(GEP3) aims to achieve one million enrolments of girls into school by the end of year 2020.

The project is currently running in five northern states of Nigeria: that includes Bauchi, Katsina, Niger, Sokoto and Zamfara. Since implementation commenced in 2012, the project has contributed to the enrolment of additional 360,000 girls in primary schools in the five states.

“Adolescent girls should be empowered through deliberate policies to transform their lives and those around them. Young girls who are educated are better placed to improve their own and their children’s health and chances of survival and boost their work prospects”, said Jean Gough UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.

Investing in high quality girls’ education prepares girls for life, jobs and leadership. It directly translates into the girls being powerful and positive change agents of development.

This story was published in Newswatch Times on October 24, 2015.