The plight of the girl-child is constantly under threat in a world that has literally sold its soul to mammon. When she is not kidnapped for ransom, she is lured into sex trafficking or raped and told to conceal the pain to avoid a stigma attached to the heinous crime by her assailant. The worst is the spectre of ignorance hovering over her head on account of being denied opportunity to be educated, to be liberated.
This child whose only offence is that she was born female, has borne the burden placed on her by fate with courage in the hope that, someday, someone will see the need to draw attention to her position in life and realise that, indeed, she is a stream of light in a world reeling in self-imposed darkness. December 19, 2011 was that day when the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170 to declare October 11 as the International Day of the girl-child, to recognise her rights and the unique challenges she faces around the world.
The world dared to remove the veil of silence over the injustice suffered by, especially the girl-child, in 1995 at the World Conference on Women in Beijing. At that epoch-making event, countries unanimously adopted what has come to be famously known as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing the rights of not only women but also the girl-child. The Beijing Declaration is the first to specifically call out for the right of the girl-child.
The International Day of the Girl-child focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote their empowerment and also the fulfillment of their human rights. The theme for this year’s event is, “Digital generation. Our generation,” and it acknowledges the growing digital world and how a digital gap can also widen the gender gap.
Sadly, in the opinion of this newspaper, the girl- child in Nigeria has not received a fair deal in recent times. It is no secret that she has become the target for insurgents and bandits troubling the country. We recall that on the night of 14–15 April 2014, 276 female students aged from 16 to 18 were kidnapped by the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, from the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State. To date, some of the girls are still in captivity, their existence forgotten, wished away.
Also on February 19, 2018, 110 schoolgirls aged 11–19 years old were kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi in Yobe State. Five schoolgirls died on the same day of their kidnapping; Boko Haram released everyone else in March 2018, save the lone Christian girl, Leah Sharibu, who refused to convert to Islam. Also, on February 26, 2021, 317 girls were kidnapped from Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe in Zamfara State. They have been released.
Amnesty International estimated in 2015 that at least 2,000 women and girls have been abducted by the Islamist terrorist group since 2014, many of whom have been forced into sex slavery. Regrettably, in our view, the constant abduction of girls, especially in the north, no doubt, is a threat to girl- child education in a region notorious for sacrificing the rights of the female gender.
Apart from insecurity, the girl- child in Nigeria is also the major victim of human trafficking. According to a report, about 21,000 Nigerian women and girls have been trafficked to Italy since 2015 with 80 per cent of them victims of human trafficking.
In the latest Global Slavery Index (2018) report, Nigeria ranks 32 out of 167 countries with the highest number of slaves – 1,386,000 – and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) reports that the highest number of trafficked children in Nigeria, recently upgraded to a Tier 2 country on the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking In Persons Report (2021), are girls between the ages of 12-17 (2020 Report).
A coalition of Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, has also reported that Nigeria ranks as the 7th most dangerous country for women to live in, which calls for urgent action against Gender-Based Violence. As if that is not bad enough, Save the Children International Global Girlhood report claimed that Child Marriage kills more than 60 girls a day. It said an estimated 44 per cent of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday, one of the highest rates of child marriage globally.
It is gratifying to note that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo recently tasked governments at all levels to deliver on their roles on the provision of basic education for the girl- child. He reiterated that a lot needs to be done if the nation must achieve the goals of girl-child education.
As Nigerians join the international community in celebrating the girl child, we call on more states to domesticate the statutes directed at eliminating violence against women as well as laws that enhance the girl- child rights.