The International Day of the girl child falls every year on the 11th of October and the 2018 theme is “With Her: A Skilled Workforce”. According to the United Nations, this year like the previous six years marks the commencement of a year of work that will be done by collaborating with partners and stakeholders to bring awareness, advocate for and invest in challenges and opportunities imperative for girls to achieve the skills they need for their employability. This year’s theme is relevant as data shows that of the 1 billion young people that will be immersed in the workforce, 600 million are adolescent girls and more than 90% of the girls in developing nations are prone to abuse, exploitation and are also more likely to receive low wages and be employed in poorly paying informal sectors. As highlighted by the United Nations, individuals of proficient skill and education are in greater demand in today’s transformative era of innovation and automation and scholars argue that education is the medium through which young girls will grow into women and become functional members of their society. Indeed the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres in his statement said: “this International Day of the Girl Child, let us recommit to supporting every girl to develop her skills, enter the workforce on equal terms and reach her full potential”.
This day was first launched in 2012 by the United Nations General Assembly and its origins are traced back to the “Because I Am A Girl” campaign led by the global children’s charity called Plan International. This campaign centred on the need for greater education, medical care and recognition for the fundamental human right of young women in developing countries.
The emphasis of the international day of the girl child since its inception is to foster the empowerment of the girl child (a female below the age of 18) and raise awareness on the challenges of education, child marriage, sexual health and gender-based violence that are grounded in inequality; tackling these issues is important to furthering the advancement of the fundamental human rights of the girl child.
The challenges of the girl child resonate and are highlighted globally because the discrimination, exploitation and injustice faced by the woman and indeed the girl child is a global problem with profound effects that stem from centuries of inequality. Injustices against the girl child spanning decades in all corners of the world are well documented. As one writer said “Female feticide, female infanticide, sexual abuse, marginalization in terms of nutrition, health care and education, violence against women and bias against women in all spheres of life including social, political, economic and religious spheres is a common norm in today’s world.” When placed in the context of the inferior economic, social and political statuses in the global south, often these conditions are worse for the girl-child in developing countries.
In Nigeria, a significant indicator of this inequality is the rate of child marriages, a burden that falls predominantly on the girl child. According to Save the Children, Nigeria has notably, one of the highest child marriage prevalence rates worldwide. The National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) in 2013 notes that the number of Nigerian girls married before their 18th birthday is a significant 58.2%. Lack of education is unsurprisingly greater with evidence showing 82% of women aged 20-24 who have been married before the age of 18 had no education. However, the inherent and crucial issues in the pursuit of girl child education and subsequently, skills in Nigeria is founded on issues of gross insufficient access to education and the rate of poverty plaguing the country.
To mark the international day of the girl child it should be of utmost priority that as the girl child’s challenges are amplified strategies to facilitate girls education are put in the forefront in Nigeria. There are strategies that promote the education of the girl child in Nigeria. The National policy on Education states that access to education is a right for all Nigerian children regardless of their gender. The Universal Basic Education Act 2004 also mandates free and compulsory education for all children till junior secondary school. However, these policies have not been able to achieve their aims as universal access to education remains a challenge for Nigerian children but especially the girl child. According to the UNICEF, 60% of the 10.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria are girls.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) embarked on a strategy to tackle issues of girl child enrollment and retention in schools in Nigeria. The introduction of the Girls for Girls (G4G) initiative in Northern Nigerian schools saw improvements in the number of girls remaining and completing school. The programme also provides training for female mentors teaching them facilitating skills.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed in reviewing the initiative recognized the efforts and gains thus far but admitted that more still needed to be done, he said “there is the need to appreciate that some progress has been made in this bid, but a lot still needs to be done, considering the fact that a large number of girl children are yet to be captured in the programme”.10