FGM Monthly Article – October 2021

October 21, 2021

Abuse of the Girl Child

The Sun Voice of the Nation
21st October 2021 

The story of the girl child in Nigeria is not cheery. On the occasion of this year’s International Day of the Girl Child, these issues, once again, were on the front burner. If she is not married off early, she may be denied the opportunity to go to school. If she is not subjected to child labor, she may become a victim of incest and rape.

Stories of fathers defiling their daughters or housemaids abound in different parts of the country. In most cases, when such people are caught, the excuse has often been, “I was tempted by the devil.” When a retired army captain was caught defiling his four-year-old niece in Calabar, Cross River State, last year, he claimed that he was under the influence of alcohol. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that one in five girls has experienced sexual violence globally.

Female children suffer other forms of violence and indignity in Nigeria. Last year, it was reported that a 10-year-old girl, Nneoma Nnadi, suffered serious abuse in the hands of her guardians in Enugu. The couple reportedly burnt Nneoma’s belly, back and buttocks with hot electric iron, drilled six-inch nail into her head, and inserted red hot pepper into her private part. They also allegedly locked her up in the toilet. Nneoma was rushed to the hospital for treatment as the story drew outrage among Nigerians.

In some cultures, female genital mutilation, otherwise called female circumcision, is still prevalent. This is worsened by early marriage which some girls are subjected to. The World Health Organisation says that 12 million girls are married before age 18 each year.  A new report by Save the Children International reveals that 44 per cent of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday. This is said to be one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world and it is largely fuelled by gender inequality.

The report indicated that child marriage kills over 60 girls daily worldwide.  Many of those who survive it suffer mental and physical torture in their matrimonial homes. And because they are not yet fully mature for childbearing, many of them suffer Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) in addition. This is particularly prevalent in northern Nigeria. 

Unfortunately, girls are the worst victims of child labor. Rather than go to school, some of them end up as hawkers. Hence, more than half of the over 13 million out-of-school children in Nigeria are girls. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) adds that over 1.3 million Nigerian girls drop out before reaching the last year of lower secondary school every year. While out of school, these girls could become victims of rape and ritual killings. Besides, the United Nations says at least 60 per cent of countries still discriminate against girls’ right of inheritance. In some parts of southern Nigeria, females are not allowed to partake in the sharing of their father’s property despite the fact that the Supreme Court has abolished this type of discrimination. 

An abused girl may grow up to have psychological problems. Some of them perform poorly in school, and may have post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and poor relationships. Society and leaders at various levels owe the girl child some level of protection and care. The first step is to empower them and give them equal opportunities with the boys. Education is the best way to do this. If the female child is allowed to compete with her male counterpart in school and elsewhere, she stands a better chance of taking good care of herself and impacting on the society. They compete favorably with boys in exams such as the West African School Certificate Exams and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Exam (UTME). Some girls have reportedly beaten boys and emerged the best candidates in the UTME and WASSCE in recent times.

To further empower the girl child, there is need to strictly enforce the laws that are meant to protect children from abuse. We call for the domestication of the Child Rights Act in all the states of the federation. We need to adhere to the dictates of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which Nigeria is a signatory to. We need to also adhere to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted at the World Conference on Women in 1995. The major aim of the Platform for Action is to eradicate all forms of discrimination, violence, and negative cultural practices against girls.

Government agencies, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and religious bodies should embark on enlightenment campaigns to save the girl child from all forms of abuse and discrimination. 

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