Nigerian girl-child as endangered species

As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark the 2021 International Day of the Girl Child recently, there have been calls for stakeholders to remember that all human beings come from that species of human that many backward societies tend to look down on. ELEOJO IDACHABA writes.

Recently, October 11 to be precise, Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark the 2021 International Day of the Girl Child. The Day is set aside to highlight and address the needs and challenges which girls face throughout the globe. It is said that the general aim of the Day is to help the girl-child to find training and education that can help her develop into a young and successful woman.

There is no doubt that in Nigeria the lot of the girl- child in many parts of the country is nothing to write home about. From the North to South, its either they are victims of forced marriage or as sex slaves. In some cases, they are victims of forced labour and in many cases denied education enjoyed by their male counterparts.

Justification for Theme

The theme for this year is “Digital Generation; Our Generation” taken from the global experiences about Covid-19 pandemic that wreaked havoc in almost every country of the world, including Nigeria. Because of the deadly blow it dealt on the globe, Blueprint Weekend’s investigations revealed that education is one of its worst victims. As a result of this, digital technology and innovations were largely deployed to aid in learning virtually as against physical contact. To that extent, the pandemic therefore accelerated digital learning platforms in many countries where such had never existed.

To the United Nations, there is no better time to relate the usefulness of digital technology in learning, especially for the girl-child than on a Day that the whole world marks.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing inequalities and disrupting access to vital health and support services. However, it has also accelerated the use of digital health and tools. This provides an opportunity, especially for children and adolescents under 18 who account for an estimated 1 in three internet users worldwide.

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UN Special Research Programme HRP hereby present some of the ways in which digital health solutions are playing a role in promoting girls’ empowerment and fulfilment of their human rights.

“When it comes to their health, the technologies they use and how they access information, young people are well-placed to articulate their needs and contribute to finding solutions as equal and valuable partners. However, they still encounter considerable resistance to meaningful collaboration when it comes to programmes, strategies, policies, funding mechanisms and organisations that directly affect their lives,” the global body stated while  justifying the theme.

How Day marked in Nigeria

In Nigeria, the Day was marked in almost every state in the country. In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), for instance, authorities of the Territory urged the girl-child to strive and bring back the much-needed healing and build bridges of reconciliation, mutual understanding, equity, fairness and justice that is fast fading in the country.

The acting secretary, Federal Capital Development Authority (FCTA) Social Development Secretariat, Dr. Kevin Ike, gave the advice as the Day was being marked in Abuja.

He said there was so much suspicion in the air and no gainsaying that the older generation has failed the society. He, therefore, enjoined the girl-child to aspire to become the change by speaking with one voice against social injustice, sexual and GBV as well as all forms of abuse.

In line with this year’s theme, he enjoined the girl-child in particular to explore positive use of the social media and internet in order to make their voices heard.

“Use the social media and internet to champion the cause of the girl child unto liberation, protection and achievement of full potential.

””Use it in addressing domestic violence whenever you see one and so make your neighbourhood saner than you met it. There is a place in the history of mankind for you to make great marks before leaving planet earth. Do not therefore take it lightly,” Ike said.

Osinbajo’s charge

In his view, the vice-president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, tasked the government at all levels to provide basic education for all, especially for the girl-child.

He said education is likened to a meal ticket for human’s civil, socio-political and economic rights.

 “When we talk about human rights that have been declared, the only way to access those rights, including economic rights, is by education at the most basic level. The ability to read and write, not just in one’s own language, but other global languages is crucial. To be deprived of education is to be deprived of means of pursuit of a dignified existence.

“It is the only means where one can fully contest or collaborate with others for the benefits that life offers and it is so important for us, especially those who are policy makers,” he said.

He added that, “We owe our people the duty to educate them, to lift their minds to the level where they can benefit maximally from their environment and give benefits to others. Every study, every survey that you have seen confirms that education, especially of women, has a multiplier effect on everything around them.

“If you educate a woman, she transforms her environment completely. It usually means a longer life span for herself and for her children. It also means they are less likely to die of communicable diseases since they understand the modern practices of hygiene and sanitation and follow useful material on healthcare.

“All of these things are possible if the mind of a human being is educated. Every child has talent; every child is born with some talents and some abilities, but nothing would happen if they are not educated to express those abilities.”

NDHS’ statistics

The Nigerian Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) reported that the adolescent birth rate in 2018 was 106 births per 1,000 women and that Bauchi state had the highest number of adolescent births (198), while Imo state had the least. On a general note, however, adolescent births seem to be higher in the north, specifically in the North-west, where the median age of first marriage and first intercourse is approximately put at 16 years. And with the recent surge of insurgency in the North-east and banditry/kidnapping largely in the North-west, it is not clear if Bauch state still remains the highest in terms of adolescent births.

 The 2018 demographic health survey has the most recent national data on teenage pregnancy and it is carried out every five years.

The survey revealed that 19% of adolescent women had begun having children below age 18. The 2013 and 2008 editions of the survey reported a slight decrease in 2003, but DHS noted that the rate was 28% in 1990.

In 2003, for instance, the rate was higher in rural areas (29%), and 32% in 2018.

Probable causes of teenage pregnancies

According to a professor of nursing at the College of Health Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife, Omolola Irinoye, several factors influence teenage pregnancies in Nigeria. 

“Family-related factors have to do with early marriage and parental income. Because of the economic gains of marrying a rich man, some parents force their young girl-child into early marriage. Lack of parental care and supervision also falls into this category,” she said.

She said further that societal factors like community violence, rape, alcohol and substance abuse and low contraceptive use also contribute largely to adolescent births in many parts of the country as against what is obtainable in western countries.

Constitutional hiccups

In his take, a human rights lawyer, Babalola Ajibike, said according to Nigeria’s Child’s Rights Act, no one under 18 years is considered capable of contracting a valid marriage, but that “this is not observed in all parts of the country.”

“The notion of child marriage is greatly frowned upon and even condemned in the southern and eastern parts of the country, but receives open acceptance in some parts of the northern region,” she said.

She said further that the 2003 Act had only been adopted by 24 of the 36 states of the federation. This meant that in 12 states, girls as young as 12 could still get married.

She also noted that there seems to be a lot of discrepancy between the Child Right Act and the constitution.

“There exists a gap in the country’s constitution and laws which tacitly encourage child marriage. For example, in Section 277 of the Child’s Rights Act, anyone below age 18 is considered a child, while a section of the constitution provides that any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age even if she is younger than 18. This is the contradiction in our own laws. A lot still needs to be done for the girl-child.”

Health/social implications

According to Health Think, an advocacy group, early pregnancies among adolescents have major health consequences for adolescent mothers and their babies.

“Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15 – 19 years. Without adequate support from their parents, adolescents are at risk of not getting antenatal care which is critical in the first months of pregnancy, as it looks for medical problems in both mother and baby, monitors the baby’s growth and helps to quickly identify any complications that may arise. While there is no risk-free pregnancy, good antenatal care and support can help minimise those risks.

“Factors like age and overall health status can increase the chances of experiencing complications during pregnancy. Adolescents are at a higher risk for pregnancy-related high blood pressure (preeclampsia) and its complications than average age mothers. This condition can also harm the kidneys or even be fatal for the mother or baby.

“Mothers aged between 10 to19 years face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis and systemic infections than women aged between 20 and 24 years. Pregnant teens have a higher risk of getting pregnancy-induced hypertension than pregnant women in their 20s or 30s,” it stated.

It added, “Pregnant adolescents also have a higher chance of becoming anaemic, a condition that results in the reduction of red blood cells. This can make mothers feel weak and tired and can affect the baby’s development.

“Adolescents are at a higher risk of having premature babies that weigh less than babies normally should weigh. In addition, the earlier a baby is born, the more risk there is of respiratory, digestive, vision, cognitive, and other problems. Low birth-weight babies are also 5 – 30 times more likely to die than babies of normal weight.

“If a mother is under 18, her baby’s chance of dying in the first year of life is 60 percent higher than that of a baby born to a mother older than 19. For Adolescents who have sex during pregnancy, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) such as Chlamydia and HIV are a major concern. Part of this heavy toll has more to do with poor socio-economic status and lack of ante-natal and obstetric care than physical maturity alone.”

On a general note, it noted that millions of unsafe abortions among girls aged 15 -19 years occur each year, contributing to maternal mortality, morbidity and lasting health problems.

It further noted that there is also a social implication as, “The social consequences for unmarried pregnant adolescents may include stigma, rejection or violence by partners, parents and peers. Girls who become pregnant before the age of 18 years are more likely to experience violence within a marriage or partnership. “Adolescent pregnancies and child-bearing often lead girls to drop out of school, thereby jeopardising their future education and employment opportunities.”

It is important that society recognises the girl-child as a species of human being with a right to basic forms of life like the male-child.