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EDITORIAL

Making the girl-child centerpiece of national devp

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AFTER Nigeria joined rest of the world to celebrate the 2021 International Day of the Girl Child recently, attention shifted on tweaking strategies for frontal onslaughts on challenges facing the girl-child in the country, because some dynamics playing out against her in contemporary Nigeria may be primordial while others are unintended by-products of new order. But none has abated or seems abating.

   ALTHOUGH their male peers are not faring much better under these dynamics, particularly on the economic front, the girl-child in Nigeria faces other problems such as sexual abuse, lack of equal education opportunity, gender-based violence, religious and cultural biases, early or child marriage, discrimination, undernourishment and genital mutilation.

APART from constituting ‘built-in’ setbacks impeding her personal development, they also stunt equality and healthy interaction with the opposite gender in a society rooted in patriarchal idiosyncrasies and gender stereotypes that smother vital ‘fires’ needed by the girl-child to mark up her global competitiveness.

  PERHAPS, United Nations knew this and therefore sought a reversal of global gender unfairness during its General Assembly of December 19, 2011, which adopted Resolution 66/170 to declare October 11 as International Day of the Girl Child in recognition of girls’ rights and allied wedges against them around the world. But many countries, including Nigeria, are yet to internalise or domesticate this convention beyond lipservice or yearly talk-shops.

   FOR instance, in states like Gombe, widespread rape epidemic has been reported by police with about 250 cases occurring between January and December, 2020. Yet the state government seems lukewarm in taking the trend headlong. But what goes on in many states where rape of minors or the girl-child is routine is not radically different, with government in these states appearing powerless to halt the menace. Poorly formed, unruly boys and even some randy elders take advantage of the country’s tardy policing structure to sexually abuse the girl-child and minors who endure physical, physiological, and emotional torture. While many victims suffer in silence for fear of stigmatisation, those bold enough to report are often subjected to ridicule. Yet, many do not get justice against their abusers who go scot-free and even prey on more victims. The mantle falls on states to strip this blight because rape comes within jurisdiction of state law. Hence, each state has powers to prosecute rape cases in accordance with its own criminal procedure.

   ANOTHER hurdle stacked against the girl-child is the practice of forcefully turning children to brides, because globally, an estimated 650 million girls and women alive today were married at childhood, with about half of those occurring in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, and Nigeria, where about 23 million girls and women married as children to give the nation the largest number of child-brides in Africa, according to latest UNICEF’s global report on welfare of young persons which warns that  10 million additional child marriages may occur around the world before 2031.

   THE report also stated  that in North-East Nigeria, only 41 per cent of eligible girls receive primary education and 47 per cent of them recorded in North-West with Nigeria accounting for more than one in five out-of-school children worldwide.

  THESE indices are not only alarming or worrisome but a strong indictment on Nigeria that pretends to be concerned about curbing the problems hindering the growth of the girl-child and still foot-drags at every opportunity to make an outstanding change. Yes, the country adopted Child Rights Act in 2003, at national level but to date, only 23 of 36 the states have domesticated the law, according to UNICEF. Yet some of the states that had domesticated the act are negligent in implementation, thus creating a fertile ground for sustained barriers to the ability of the girl-child to achieve her full potential.

THIS is why redirection by going about girl-child development in renewed commitment and vigour becomes a clarion. And there should be no lethargy anymore. 

   FROM family and community fronts up to governments, there should be firm and total commitment as some states like Anambra, under Gov. Willie Obiano, have demonstrated by rededicating to gender equality and inclusivity in polices connected with children and young persons that quickly rubbed off in laurels for the state from every divide where pupils from Regis Pacis College, Onitsha and Loretto Special Science School – both all-girl schools – headline Anambra’s new reputation as global brand in education.

With this strong foundation, the governor has left behind another legacy to ensure the state will continue to produce more Prof. Dora Akunyilis, Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesilis and Mrs. Stella Okolis in every generation.

GOV. Obiano also gave new nudge to the clarion by sponsoring legislations that give more teeth to Anambra’s Child Right Law. This is a challenge that undecided or non-committed states should address as a matter of urgent national importance.

  ANAMBRA also adopted sex offenders’ register, with Ekiti as the other state to do so in Nigeria, in defence of the girl-child. The state has continuously prosecuted rapists, named and shamed those convicted.

Other states should emulate this strategy apart from enacting stronger laws and reinforcing existing ones to punish rapists and deter aspiring ones in addition to routinely sharing information on identity and movement of known sexual predators, because it has delivered effective law enforcement outcomes in United States and European Union countries.

There should be special courts to speedily try rape suspects, especially those committed against female minors and underage girls, with those convicted named and shamed by publishing their names in a sex offenders’ register.

  WE EQUALLY recommend a stop to harmful and primitive practices against the girl-child and call for their replacement with refined social norms and practices. After all, only recently, Supreme Court abolished an archaic cultural practice denying the girl-child of inheritance in parts of South-East Nigeria. How then can any state afford to lag behind this movement in today’s 21st Century world?

   FEDERAL government should in concrete terms, go beyond advocacy by putting in place, machineries of protecting the girl-child against gender-based violence to provide her with every impetus of having a voice pursuing her dreams and reaching the pinnacle of any legitimate career of her choice. Who knows if Nigeria can get her acts right only if the girl-child becomes centerpiece of national development?

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