12 October 2013

Nigeria: Help the Girl Child


In October last year, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban in Afghanistan, in an attempt to silence her because of her advocacy for girl-child education. The brave girl has now become a hero of sorts, having won a few prizes. She has just been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala is a symbol of the struggle for the emancipation of the girl child, especially in the developing world. Girls are vulnerable; they pay the price for the family poverty.

There are numerous dimensions to the sad case of the girl child. Often, she is used as a commodity to settle debts. The family may owe a drug baron money but lack the capacity to pay; therefore, it offers the available daughter as a "bride". The girl is sometimes sent out as a slave for payment of other types of debts. She is subsequently abused and occasionally even killed.

A more dangerous phenomenon that seems to be running like a train without brakes is the rising cases of rape and incest. It is so widespread that it seems as if the authorities globally have thrown up their hands in acceptance, preferring instead to let non-governmental organisations deal with a problem that needs collective intervention. In Nigeria, this type of crime is fuelled by the ineptitude of those charged with law enforcement. There are inadequacies inherent in our legal system.

The role of families in the promotion of good moral values should not be relegated to the background. Couples are advised to have only children they can cater for. And there should be no discrimination between boys and girls, as is the case in certain cultures. Societies that deny females the right of inheritance should become more civilised. It is now crucial for the Nigerian government to have a strategy in place that would ensure the proper prosecution of rape and incest cases. This is because these cases are difficult to prove, as could be seen in some recent high-profile cases in the country.

Also, child slavery must be abolished in the country. Girls of school age that serve as domestic workers must be allowed to go to school by their employers. To help this case, we urge government to revisit the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act, which prescribes a penalty for parents that take their children out of school. That way, the number of girls "available" for paedophiles and on the streets for abuse would be drastically reduced.

In the midst of all those girls who, against all odds, persevere to get an education could be another Chimamanda Adichie or the next generation's Stella Okoli of Emzor Pharmaceuticals. We dedicate this year's International Day of the Girl to Malala and to all girls that are struggling each day to secure a meaningful future for themselves.

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