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GIRL CHILD: Problems, prospects of girl-child education in Nigeria

The term ‘girl-child refers to a female between the ages of 6-18 years.
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Tellingly, poverty , peer pressure, early marriage, unwanted pregnancy, negligence, rape, ignorance, being their family’s burden bearers, and a lack of parental care are parts of the challenges hindering girl child education in Nigeria. The term ‘girl-child refers to a female between the ages of 6-18 years. Thus, in countries affected by conflict (Northeast Nigeria), girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school than girls living in non-affected countries. According to Nigerian President Muhammed Buhari, as quoted on January 16, 2020, 2020 Nigeria has 13.2 million out-of-school children. The girl-child accounts for 60% of this figure.

In many African traditions, the birth of the male child is more celebrated than that of a female because it is believed that the male child would keep the family name so that the lineage would not be cut off. Consequently, the female child is denied the opportunity to go to school as it is considered a waste of resources. Female children are confined to domestic chores; she is considered to only fit in at the kitchen and the house, and she is not schooled because that is her role – a housekeeper. This orientation prevents her not realising her full potential. Culturally missed conception is a tool that has been a hindrance to a lot of girls getting an education. Illiteracy is another major ch allenge of girl-child education. There is poor enlightenment about the benefits of educating a girl-child and so many illiterate parents see no reason a girl-child has to go to school. Some of their reasons are if they educate her, she would get married and there no benefit of her being educated.

In many areas inhabited by low income earners, many parents still invest more on their male children by ensuring that they go to good schools while the girls help them in trading or farming.

Girl-child education in Nigeria has many challenges. They include gender discrimination, cultural and religious limitations, poverty, and illiteracy, among others. Education is a basic human right and has been recognised as such since the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A positive correlation exists between the enrolment of girls in primary school and the gross national product and the increase in life expectancy. Because of this, enrollment in school represents the largest component of the investment in human capital in any society.

The rapid socio-economic development of a nation has been observed to depend on the calibre of women and their education in that country. Education bestows on women a disposition for a life-long acquisition of knowledge, values, competence, mpetence and skills. To ensure equal access to education, national policy on education states that access to education is a right for all Nigerian children regardless of gender, religion and disability. Education , especially, the girl-child education is becoming a major issue of discourse in academic and political spheres in Nigeria. Nollywood producers, radio presenters, professors, mechanics, drivers, politicians are always bringing up the issue to the public domain. Will there ever be a day in Nigeria when the girl-child will be as privileged as the boy-child with regards to the freedom to pursue their academic aspirations? Poverty also contributes to making these girls financial providers to their families. They hawk in the streets, which exposes them to the risk of road accidents. They engage in menial jobs like housemaid and lots more. All these expose them to sexual abuse. Another challenge of girl-child education is cultural misconceptions. So many ill traditional believes make the female child not treated equally with the male child.

According to Sunday Timesa counsellor, Mrs. Uzezi Opute, who lamented how some parents only feed their children but don’t care what becomes of their female children in the future.Opute, who lives in Alimosho area of Lagos, disclosed that some parents prepare their girl children for marriage without empowering them to be financially self reliant.

According to her, between the ages of six and 15 years are not in school despite the fact that there is free education in government schools in Lagos.

“In a yet to be completed building where some street urchins live, some young girls live with them, and they smoke Indian hemp like the men. The funniest aspect of it is that the mother of one of the girls comes to that camp to see her,” says Opute.

“Also, one of my neighbours is using her 15 year-old daughter to get money from men. I have counselled the girl several times, but to no avail. This girl dropped out of primary school and went to learn hair dressing but was sent home for misconduct. Since then, she has become a source of income for her mother,” she added.

She then called on parents to nurture their daughters well, as they are the ones that will cater for their parents at old age.

The first International Day of the Girl Child was observed in 2012, arising from the United Nations General Assembly adoption of Resolution 66/170 that declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child.

This day was adopted by United Nations to raise awareness of gender inequality, child marriage, education deprivation and other sensitive issues faced by girls due to their gender and to eliminate them.

Among the 122 million girls UNESCO said are out of school, majority of them can be found in sub-Saharan Africa, though there have been improvement since 2012.

Some stakeholders mentioned late school enrollment, culture and traditions, ignorance as some of impediments militating against the success recorded so far towards ensuring that girls are educated in Nigeria.

It is on this note that the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Senator Oluremi Tinubu (CON), has said that empowering the girl child with knowledge is investing in the nation’s future.

Speaking at the National Girls Interactive Session with Policy and Decision Makers in commemoration of the 2023 International Day of the Girl child, she called on all and sundry to protect the girl child from every form of violence with a view to create a safe and inclusive environment for them to succeed.

She said: “Our girls are not just the leaders of tomorrow; they are the leaders of today. It’s high time we break down barriers that have held them back for long. Education is the key weapon that we must use to ensure that every girl is free from discrimination and intimidation.”

“This is one of the reasons I have taken it as a priority to encourage the girl child so she can achieve her potential.”

She charged the girls and boys present to join voluntary clubs like Boys Scouts, Girls Guide, and Red Cross, among others.

Also speaking, the Minister for Women Affairs Barr. Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye noted that the Federal Government is committed to ensure that harmful and discriminatory practices against the girl child are eliminated.

Kennedy-Ohanenye warned those who assault girls sexually to desist from doing it again as government will prosecute the offenders.

In the same vein, a group known as Clipeg Solutions Initiative has warned that girls are not just the future; they are leaders of today.

“By investing in their education, mentorship, and opportunities, we enable them to become leaders in various fields. When girls are given the chance to lead, they bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and resilience to the table, contributing significantly to social, economic, and political progress.”

They maintained that “Every girl deserves to grow up in a safe environment, free from discrimination and violence. Investing in girls’ rights means advocating for equal access to education, healthcare, and opportunities. It means creating a society where girls are encouraged to dream big, pursue their passions, and achieve their goals without any limitations based on their gender.

“Promoting Well-being: Girls’ well-being encompasses physical, mental, and emotional health. It involves providing access to proper nutrition, healthcare, and mental health support. When girls are healthy and supported, they can focus on their education, pursue their interests, and develop into confident individuals ready to make a positive impact on the world.

“Taking Action: Investing in girls’ rights requires collective effort. Communities, governments, and organizations must collaborate to create policies and programs that empower girls. By providing equal opportunities, eradicating gender-based violence, and fostering supportive environments, we can ensure that every girl has the chance to thrive,” they stated.

To make the world a better place, all hands must be on deck to invest in girls’ rights, support their access to quality education, and create a brighter future for them.

The importance of the girl-child education cannot be overemphasized. Every child should be given the opportunity to be educated irrespective of gender as both sexes can bring equal growth and contribution to the society. According to an African proverb, “If you educate a boy, you educate one person but if you educate a girl, you educate a family and nation”. An empowered woman is full of great potential, strength, courage and knowledge which she passes down to society. This will empower and improve productivity in the society. It will also increase women’s involvement in the political process as an educated woman can participate in politics and contribute effectively to the governance of the society. With education, women are able to understand issues relating to women and can intelligently contribute to such issues.

Similarly, an educated woman can raise her voice to be heard especially to demand for equality and fairness on issues that concern them and their families. Having a voice that could be heard led to reduction in the rate of domestic and sexual violence. Girl-child education produces women that easily embrace safe sex thereby reducing the level of sexually transmitted diseases and they also have knowledge of the preventive measures to avoid other diseases. The solution to the high rate of girl-child drop out from school is to encourage enlightenment campaign on the importance of girl-child education. A lot can be done by simply spreading the message by talking to someone and continuing to do so until every child is given the opportunity to go to school. In order to improve the level of girl-child education, government should create more public enlightenment and make policies that discourage discrimination on girl-child education. Religious leaders should also play a role by teaching their followers on the importance of girl-child education and discourage them from negative beliefs on girl-child education. The government should encourage girl-child education, the people fill that more needs to be done by improving infrastructural deficiency, improved teacher professional development and creating awareness that will encourage the people to prioritize the education of girl-child. It was also recommended that government should create poverty alleviation program at the grass root, girl-child needs to be provided with a safe and supportive educational environment that is free from abuse, early marriage should be abolished until the girl-child has attained a certain level of education and government should make concerted effort to engage with development partners in ensuring community-based sensitization and human capacity development of teachers that will translate into increase enrolment of girl-child.

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