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May 5, 2020

Girl-Child Education

By Dr Baba J Adamu

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In almost all emergencies, such as in armed conflicts, natural disasters, human-made hazards and mass population displacements, civil registration systems often become dysfunctional, poorly operational and, in extreme cases, entirely collapsed. Birth and death certificates are often lost and entire archives may be destroyed during or in the aftermath of the crisis. In such situations, the administrative system fails to record and register vital events leading to a backlog of unregistered women and children, and the absence of a reliable cause of death information. This is the case in the crises-torn north-eastern region in Nigeria with the core of humanitarian response often focusing on addressing basic human needs, such as safety, health and education. In normal circumstances, even today, civil registration of births or deaths is not carried out 100% as a lot of parents do not register births or deaths especially in the northern parts of Nigeria. Plus, the provision of civil registration services usually remains under-resourced and under-prioritized in situations of fragility, with significant long and short-term consequences. For example, women and children are especially vulnerable in situations of this insurgency conflict and emergency, and it is critical to register and count them so that they can be protected and provided for. Also, this highlights the need for a new approach to education, especially, girl-child and the issue of the development of regional identity.


Girl Child Day: October 11, OXFAM seeks Equal Opportunity for Girls-Child. International Day of the Girl Child is an international observance day declared by the United Nations (UN); it is also called the Day of Girls and the International Day of the Girl. October 11, 2012, was the First Day of the Girl Child. “No sustainable future can be contemplated without considering the future of the girl child in the country”. According to the World Bank, every day, girls face barriers to education caused by poverty, cultural norms and practices, poor infrastructure, violence and fragility. About 98 million girl-children are out of school around the world and mostly in 3rd world countries. Girls’ education is a strategic development priority for everyone, especially in northern Nigeria.


Girls’ education goes beyond getting girls into school. It is also about ensuring that girls learn and feel safe while in school; complete all levels of education with the skills to effectively compete in the labour market; learn the socio-emotional and life skills necessary to navigate and adapt to a changing world; make decisions about their own lives, and contribute to their communities and the world. Girls’ education is a strategic development priority because when girls are educated, the whole society benefits. Better educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in the formal labour market and have the opportunity to earn higher incomes, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and enable better health care and education for their children. Married educated women can help lift households, communities, and nations out of poverty. According to UNESCO estimates, 130 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 are out of school and 15 million girls of primary-school-age - half of them in sub-Saharan Africa - will never enter a classroom.


Although the girl equivalent of the Almajiri child is not seen carrying a bowl and roaming the streets, she faces her social problems. For instance, she is seen hawking, selling traditional snacks by the road, and most times she is employed as a house help. Another common practice is that these girls direct blind people who tread the streets begging for alms. The blind person may either be the girl’s mother, father, relative or a stranger, in which case, he is permitted by her parents to carry the girl on the understanding that he will give her something out of what he gets that day. They are mostly found at traffic intersections, which are strategic locations to ask for alms when motorists stop. Many others wonder about, on the streets and in the markets, and even at mosques from where perhaps an uncertain meal might come. Also, more often than not, that deprived, dejected girl is married off at a very young age because her parents or guardian is unable to provide for her.


In Islam, Girl child education is just as important as boys' education because Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was reported to have said "Education is compulsory for both male and female believers". History is replete with stories of women intellectuals who have impacted tremendously on the development and spread of Islamic education. Unfortunately today, the girl equivalent of Almajiri child presents its social problems; though they do not leave home, they are however free to roam the streets, hawking, fetching water and engage in other house-hold jobs.  Most of them are enrolled in one form of school or the other. But attendance is occasional or at times practically zero. Hawking becomes their main occupation. The South-Eastern states also have their share of problems of girl child education. A recent survey shows that more than 50% of them end up hawking on the streets. As for the North, “yes, it is true we could blame the British almost (100%) for deliberately destroying our indigenous education system but we could not blame them for our collective negligence in allowing the system to continue unabated in its present form” said Malam Zubairu.


Poverty remains the most important factor in determining whether a girl can access an education. For example, in the North-West zone alone, only 4 percent of poor young women can read compared with 99 percent of young women in the South-East. Studies consistently reinforce that girls who face multiple disadvantages - such as low family income, living in remote or underserved locations, disability or belonging to a minority ethnolinguistic group - are farthest behind in terms of access to and completion of education. Violence also negatively impacts access to education and a safe environment for learning. Child marriage is also a critical challenge. Child brides are much more likely to drop out of school and complete fewer years of education than their peers who marry later. This affects the education and health of their children, as well as their ability to earn a living. According to a recent report, more than 41,000 girls under the age of 18 marry every day and putting an end to the practice would increase women’s expected educational attainment, and with it, their potential earnings. According to estimates, ending child marriage could generate more than $500 billion in benefits annually each year.


According to the UNFPA’s ‘World Population Report 2020’, 33,000 Nigerian girls under the age of 18 will be forced into marriage, usually to much older men. One in five females married today in Nigeria is underage. About 19 percent of women between 15 and 19 have begun child bearing. About 14 percent would have given birth and four percent are pregnant with their first child. Unfortunately, about 11 northern states have yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act despite its obvious benefits for children which include being unable to get married till the age of 18 as girls stay longer in school. The states that have failed to pass the child rights law are Bauchi, Yobe, Kano, Sokoto, Adamawa, Borno, Zamfara, Gombe, Katsina, Kebbi, and Jigawa. Little wonder these are the states with the highest cases of child marriage and fertility rates. They are also the poorest. There are, of course, those who argue that issues of polygamy, child marriage and expansive breeding are cultural and religious matters and ought to be respected and left to the individual. Such cultural relativist thinking no longer suffices. Responsible leadership demands guiding the people towards what is best for them through education and social services without coercion. Sadly, Nigeria has been too timid to address the root causes of population explosion, which include polygamy, child marriage and low prevalence of contraception. Many countries prescribe compulsory schooling as a fundamental right of the child. The change should start from leadership. A motion moved by a federal lawmaker in the Eighth National Assembly to implement effective population management policy unfortunately degenerated into a religious debate and failed to achieve its intended outcome.  Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most conservative countries, has placed a ban on the marriage of persons below the age of 18. That is the way to go. Nigeria’s modern contraceptive prevalence rate of 12 percent for married women and 28 percent for sexually active unmarried women is still too low and needs to be scaled up if the fertility rate is to drop. Arguably, State governments must also stop the practice of spending public funds sponsoring mass weddings.


There is the need for a radical social and political change that will lead to the eradication of discrimination and prejudice that continue to hold the girls back in all areas of life. In the case of Nigeria, there is the need to make case for Nigerian women and girls who have been faced with so many issues ranging from, rape, female genital mutilation, gender-based violence, marginalization, early marriage among others. To reinforce the message around challenging gender stereotypes, fighting bias, broadening perceptions, improving women and girl’s participation at all levels of the economy and celebrating the achievements of women and girls. The world would be a better place if the female genders are as happy as their male counterparts.


The World Bank Group (WBG) has joined with governments, civil society organizations, multilateral organizations, the private sector, and donors to advance multi-sectoral approaches to overcome these challenges. Working together with girls and women, the WBG focus includes:

  • Providing conditional cash transfers, stipends or scholarships;

  • Reducing distance to school;

  • Targeting boys and men to be a part of discussions about cultural and societal practices;

  • Ensuring gender-sensitive curricula and pedagogies;

  • Hiring and training qualified female teachers;

  • Building safe and inclusive learning environments for girls and young women;

  • Ending child/early marriage; and addressing violence against girls and women.


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