The issue of girl-child education has been the subject of debate in many fora in Nigeria; from the drafting of policy papers to setting up women right groups. Ugo Aliogo re-examines an issue which has not received the desired attention and support
Rashidat Ayomide is a 17-year-old girl from a humble background. At a tender age, she lost her parents to the cold hands of death. It was a tragic moment which caused her deep pain and grief. Through the help of her uncle, she travelled to Lagos State, to start a new life. She was registered in a school, but her stay in the school was short-lived, as she stopped in the Junior Secondary School class three (JSS3).
Her life journey had a slight twist, but she remained undeterred, hoping for the best. One fateful day, a friend invited her to attend a training seminar. She had no knowledge of how the seminar would benefit her, but she willing consented to attend the seminar against all odds.
The training was a life-changing experience which empowered her to earn a life skill. From the seminar, she was taught how to make bead and makeover.
She said: “At the seminar, we were also taught financial elevation, and marketing. We were gathered to learn different things, but for me, I chose to learn bead making. I’m doing well in it and I don’t feel happy when people say that if you do not have education, you might not be great.
“I have seen many people despite going to school, they have nothing to show for it. I have been able to train many older people in this job. In this job, I have been able to save money and I have a bank account. In life, you need determination to succeed in life. But once you have made up your mind to achieve success, you will achieve it.”
Ayomide did not only rise through the odds to eke out a living for herself, but she has comfortably built a solid platform to empower others in the same trade. She ignored the societal notions that a woman is a second-class citizen and she is considered a man’s property which seen as a machine for producing children.
The average rural Nigeria parents will rather invest in the education of the male child than the female. In the northern part of the country, young girls are denied the benefit of education with grave consequences for both the individual and the society at large.
In every civilised society, education plays a key role in human capital development and a means to successful living for people. Through education people acquire skills needed to develop their mind, intellects and contribute to the society.
In the Nigerian society, the girl-child is vulnerable to things such as forced/early child marriage, rape, child prostitution, female genital mutilation, sexual abuses (incest) exploitation and other things. These factors make it impossible for the girl-child to fully realise her potentials in a society that celebrates patriarchy.
At a recent workshop organised to brainstorm on the policy dialogue on the Child Right Act (CRA), the issue of the girl-child was the focal point of discussion. It was organised by an international Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) Mercy Corps, in collaboration with Action Health, and had as its theme; Effective Implementation of the Child Right: Implication for Girl-Child Education and Empowerment.
Participants at the workshop called on the government to create the enabling environment, which will provide equal opportunities for development for the male and the female gender.
They also appealed to government and the relevant authorities for the complete domestication and implementation of the CRA at the state levels, adding that the Act if passed into law will help in the education and economic empowerment of the girl child at the state level.
Child Rights Act
According to Mercy Corps, in 2003, Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act (CRA) as a means of developing national-level principles to adhere to the UN convention on the rights of the child. Although this law was passed at the federal level, it is only effective following ratification by State Assemblies.
The existing policy thrust and the policy implementation process in Nigeria are not favorable to the best interest of the child in the fulfillment of their rights.
The agency also stated that while the CRA has been domesticated by 24 out of 36 states in Nigeria, only two, Lagos and Akwa Ibom respectively are the ones implementing the law. The rights provided to children under the CRA cannot be enforced in courts of law, thus making Nigerian children more at risk and vulnerable. These complex socio-economic and cultural environments tend to put children especially the girl-child in a disadvantaged position.
The society’s attitude to girl-child education in Nigeria varies from region to region. In the south, the girl-child is privileged and given the opportunity to qualitative education, but most times poverty stands as an obstacle which prevents them to gain full qualitative education.
In some cases, illiteracy could be a challenge especially for those living in the rural areas. Some of them have not fully understood the importance of western education and the few schools they have in their locality may not be afford them the qualitative education.
In the north, there is a belief that the girl-child is not educated because western education conflicts with their religious and cultural beliefs. This assertion has become a subject of debate amongst scholars and Muslim clerics, who have strived over the years to change this notion.
The Wakililin Arewa, in Pala Local government, Kano State, Siayyadi Muhammadu Yola, stated that the assertion is not correct because the status has changed and girls are increasing been educated, “a lot of them are lawyers, judges, engineers and teachers.”
He stressed that the problem of not educating girls is a general issue in the country; therefore it is not peculiar to one region, while adding that the southern part of the country was given education in the last 25 years, before the northern part started received education.
The traditional ruler called on the public to appreciate those who have vocational skills as been educated and not seen them as illiterates, adding that they are committed to ensuring that girls receive good education, “in most classrooms you will see 60 girls.”
Also speaking at the forum, the Executive Director of Action Health International (AHI) Mrs. Adenike Essiet, noted that the key barriers facing girls receiving education include cost of education, distance to school, violence at school, gender norms, poverty and early marriage and pregnancy.
Essiet also stated that when girls are out of school, it increases threats to certain things such as risky sexual relations, pressure to early marriage and children bearing, exploitative labour condition.
She called for a multi-sector approach to tackle the issue, stressing that a single sector cannot fully respond to the needs of girls, “There should support in the development of a multi-stakeholder plan to guide the CRA’s implementation in order to adequately respond to the needs of girls.
“Stakeholders should correct the current investment failure to reach the most critically vulnerable girls, in the poorest communities who are presently being cut off from mainstream programmes and services. There should be public-private partnerships on the issue, in order to ensure their access to basic entitlements, services, facilities, and enable them to build protective assets to end the inter-generational perpetuation of poverty.”
“When girls are out of school, it increases threats to certain things such as risky sexual relations, pressure to early marriage and children bearing, exploitative labour condition”