On the sidelines of the United Nations Commission for the Status of Women 62 held in New York recently, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) held a side event that highlighted government’s core policy and legislative interventions that seek to empower the Girl-Child. Abimbola Akosile outlines the outcomes from the event
The United Nations Commission for the Status of Women 62 took place recently in New York, US, and in line with the issues on the frontburner, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) held a side event.
The event was attended by over 40 participants from across the globe of notable repute and from different backgrounds including civil society, development partners, the international community, private sector, Nigerians in the Diaspora and the media.
The meeting was also attended by CISLAC global board of Trustee members such as Dr. Afia Zakiya, Mr. Francis John and Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), among others.
It (meeting) aimed at highlighting government’s core policy and legislative interventions that seek to empower the Girl-Child and to address the factors militating against her realisation of her rights to education; the highest possible health standard, as well as addressing the factors encouraging early marriage, irregular migration, and forced labour.
Ultimately the purpose for the side event was to provide recommendations to both government and civil society organisations on urgent actions needed to effectively and efficiently improve the lives and well-being of the Girl-Child through access to education and healthcare and protection against socio-cultural practices and exploitative tendencies that disempower the Girl-Child in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general.
A communiqué issued at the meeting was jointly signed by CISLAC Global Board of Trustee members, Dr. Afia S. Zakiya and Mr. Francis John, and the Executive Director, CISLAC, Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani).
In his welcome remarks, the Executive Director of CISLAC, Rafsanjani commended participants for attending the event. He stressed the importance of the event as it not only keys into the theme of this year’s NGO CSW62 Forum: “Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls,” but is also very crucial, timely, relevant and provocative.
Rafsanjani recalled the unfortunate plight of young women and girls in the African context in terms of deprivation of fundamental human rights through abduction, child trafficking, irregular migration, early child marriage and much more dehumanising and criminal behaviours meted out on the girl-child.
He focused on the plight of young school girls from Chibok in Nigeria, who were abducted by the Boko-Haram sect some four years back who are yet to be fully recovered and returned to their parents. He also decried the recent abduction of another set of school girls from Dapchi community in North East Nigeria, stating that it was dehumanising and criminal to subject young girls to unnecessary hardships, exploitation and extreme violence.
Despite the advances of women in Nigerian society, Rafsanjani lamented the ineffectiveness of the overall policy and legislative environment in Nigeria and indeed African countries that are state parties to various United Nation’s protocols and conventions on the protection of fundamental human rights, girl-child rights and other rights, which he said have not resulted into elevating the status of women and girls to the level needed.
He said the necessary political will to implement legislation concerning the girl-child is lacking and called on the civil society groups to work together to push for serious reforms that would improve the lives of the girl-child. He observed that the UN CSW62 is a great platform for CSOs to advocate their various governments to engender reforms for the girl-child.
During her presentation, Manager Health, Human Development and Social Inclusion, CISLAC, Ms. Chioma Kanu, reminded all that every girl has a fundamental human right to qualitative education, healthy life, and protection against harmful socio-cultural practices such as early marriage, sexual exploitation, and forced labor.
She noted that the primary responsibility to promote and protect the basic rights of the girl-child lies squarely on all the three arms and levels of government exercising legislative, executive and judicial powers.
She observed that if properly guided and supported during her early years, the girl-child has the potential to change the world both as empowered girls today as well as tomorrow’s skilled workers, informed mothers, mentors, literate entrepreneurs, legislators, policy/decision formulators or implementers for the benefit of humanity and in the interest of justice.
Kanu informed all that unlike the Universal Basic Education Act, which has been adopted by the 36 states in Nigeria, only 24 states in Nigeria have adopted the Child’s Right Act while 12 states in Northern Nigeria are yet to agree on certain provisions in the Act, including the age of marriage.
She further stated that Nigeria has one of the highest child marriage prevalence rates in the world. The prevalence rate is highest in the North West (76%) followed by the North East (68%), North Central (35%) South-South (18%) South-West (17%), and South-East (10%). Once girls are married, very few (3.0%) are using contraception despite their needs to space child-bearing. Only 13.6% have their demand for contraception satisfied, Kanu added.
Both single and married girls, she observed, need access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including family planning and maternal health services, and safe clean water, sanitation and hygiene services.
On the issue of irregular migration, she opined that migration is a fundamental part of human life. People move from one place to another for various reasons, including poverty, unemployment, famine, communal conflicts, natural disasters, generalised violence, armed conflicts and so on.
She, however, pointed out that irregular migration outside the country was dangerous as the fundamental human rights of such migrants are not protected making them vulnerable to all forms of exploitation and abuses.
She concluded by saying that Nigeria is replete with powerful laws and policies that are not costed and captured in the budget to enhance implementation to stop irregular migration and the abuses many girls and women face seeking a better life outside Nigeria.
After Kanu’s presentation, a panel of discussants led by CISLAC Global board of Trustee, Dr. Afia Zakiya who is also an expert on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) lent their voice to the nexus between WASH and health for the girl-child. Zakiya observed that the lack of basic hygiene and water can induce and catalyse early school drop-out and poor performance.
She also remarked that poor hygiene and nutrition may well lead to ill health for the girl-child by so doing, disrupt her entire growth and well-being. She decried the outrageous number of the Nigerian population without access to toilets and sanitation which stood at a whopping 71 per cent.
She informed all that 25 per cent of the population, according to UNICEF reports, engage in open defecation. She said inadequate hygiene and lack of access to water may cause stunting for children, which has been known to not only affect the height of children but also their brain capacity. Realising improved girl-child access to education and health, even in camps for migrants requires adequate WASH.
Participants observed that the issue of child trafficking and forced labour and irregular migration cuts across all African countries. They suggested strong civil society involvement as a community to fight against the menace both internally and internationally through the platform provided by the UN such as the CSW. CISLAC Global office was urged to lead collaborations on these issues, particularly from a South African participant.
A Liberian participant expressed displeasure on the rising incidence of rape and sexual assault on the girl-child. She proposed that African governments undertake to implement the sustainable development goals as a panacea to bringing to a halt all these unsavory incidences in the African region.
Many Nigerians from the US Diaspora in attendance were saddened by the ugly report that usually comes out of Nigeria every time there is a global gathering, and called for immediate government intervention in improving the image of the country as there are positive developments in the country. However, they fully recognised the challenges raised and called for tight security in the schools to protect the girl-child.
The issue of reduced cost of governance was also flagged as a measure for fundraising by the government to plow back into the education system and infrastructural development. Nigerians in the Diaspora also expressed willingness to contribute to the country’s sustainable development. After the discussions and presentations, various recommendations were made.
Government at the national, state and local levels were urged to demonstrate greater political will in enacting new legislation and enforcing existing laws and policies that delay early and forced marriages and in punishing culprits. The 12 northern States in northern Nigeria that have not adopted the Child Rights Act need to do so urgently in the best interest of children and put measures for implementation, the meeting noted;
Government at all levels were enjoined remove all barriers that make it difficult for young girls to go to school, including the costs associated with school attendance such as uniforms, extra-school-imposed levies, and transportation fares. Schools must also be girl-child friendly and sensitive to cultural norms with increased provision of WASH services;
Participants harped on the need for government at all levels to ensure the effective implementation of section 18 of the Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, the Universal Basic Education Act, 2004 and the respective states Universal Basic Education Laws, which mandate free and compulsory education for all children up to Junior Secondary school level in Nigeria, as a key first step towards reducing early marriage. Governments at all levels were also urged to ensure that quality learning are taking place in all primary and Junior Secondary schools;
Government at all levels were called upon to incentivize girl-child education through the provision of scholarships and social protection policies like cash transfer to enable poor parents and even those that must prioritise sending only boys to school over scarce resources to the disadvantage and exclusion of the girl-child;
Also, participants at the meeting enjoined Government at all levels to develop or revise policies and enact legislation that protects young people’s rights to the highest attainable standard of health. Sexual and reproductive health services should be aligned with the standards for youth-and-adolescent-friendly services outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), including contraceptive services and HIV counseling and testing, the meeting noted.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to which most African countries are state parties to urged governments to recognise the enrolling capacity of adolescents to make independent decisions regarding their health without the consent of their parents or guardians;
To the participants, policies and strategies on girl-child empowerment should be costed and funded to support their implementation for the benefit of the girl-child;
Government was also urged to strengthen the technical, material and financial capacity of the African immigration service and other law enforcement agencies to manage external borders effectively and to detect and prevent irregular exit and entries of migrants.
They were also implored to ensure that poverty reduction programs are pro-poor and pro-Jobs to provide livelihoods for the youth; and to work closely with migrant-receiving countries to explore technical cooperation agreements for temporary labor or circular migration as a means of reducing irregular migration by desperate youths, and all the consequences and costs of policing irregular migration;
Government was also urged to promote assisted voluntary return and reintegration programmes and agreements between countries of destination, origin, and transit, to ensure humane treatment of potential returnees.
According to the participants at the CISLAC event, civil society will have to organise itself better by sustaining the aggressive campaign against girl-child marriage, protection against forced labour and human trafficking through irregular migration;
Civil Society, participants resolved, should continue to mount pressure on government at regional, federal, state and local levels regarding the effective implementation of free and compulsory education policy from primary up to Junior Secondary school;
Monitoring of progress and tracking of resources allocated to Girl-Child empowerment need to be carried out by civil society to ensure accountability, the participants urged.
To them, CSOs need to enhance the capacity of community leaders to ensure that the community structures continue to respond positively to all efforts encouraging girls to stay in school until at least the completion of Junior Secondary school;
CSOs were urged to generate evidence using both primary and secondary data to demonstrate the benefits of delaying marriage and of keeping girls in school during adolescence at regional, national, state and local levels;
They were also enjoined to partner the Ministries of Women Affairs and Child Development at all levels to build regional and national capacity for research and knowledge sharing on child marriage to improve programming, monitoring, and evaluation of policies and strategies;
Participants urged them to institute intensive advocacy and awareness programmes to inform the youth and adolescent girls across Africa about the true realities of the situation in Europe and to demystify the perception of youths about the opportunities and job prospects in Europe and that the roads of the European Union or other countries outside Africa, including the USA, are paved with gold;
CSOs were urged to partner the government to ensure that return is done in safety, with dignity and honor, so that the human rights of migrants are respected, both in the process leading to return and during the actual process of return itself;
They were also enjoined to raise public awareness about the rights of migrants to ensure that migrants within African counties, as well as those detained abroad by the authorities of a host government, receive the social employment benefits due and available to them in the destination countries, as well as access to training and other beneficial conditions of service;
CSOs were also called upon to partner regional, national and state ministries of health to promote the integration of gender-responsive HIV prevention programming for adolescent girls and young persons with other health services.
Participants at the CISLAC event observed that a demonstration of political will by African countries to fulfill their treaty and constitutional obligations is crucial to solving the plight of the girl-child.
They also agreed that a holistic approach to civil society advocacy can enable the girl-child to attain her utmost aspirations, while sensitisation of the rural women is also very important for empowering women and cascading development chances to girls.
It was also agreed that CISLAC is on the right track in terms of advocating to the government for girl-child empowerment through policy and legislative intervention, with global activism and awareness raising events. Participants urged CISLAC to work hard towards more positive news next year.