By SOLA OGUNDIPE
UNDERAGE marriage, early-age child bearing and poor educational attainment for girls, have remained issues of national significance because the Presidency, the State Governments, National and State Houses of Assembly and other arms of government are yet to expedite action to address the worsening problem.
Human development and health advocates, who made the assertion over the weekend, hinged their argument on the just released results of the Federation Special Scorecards – a set of indicators that underline the link between poor educational attainment of girls, forced marriage of underage children and under age child bearing in the country.
The scorecards, published by Africa Health, Human & Social Development Information Service (Afri-Dev. Info) in partnership with Africa Coalition on Maternal Newborn and Child Health, and Pan African Campaign Against Forced Marriage of Under Age Children, underline that although worst performing states are from the North, the issue of low girl child education and poor health indices for the girl child, is a serious national problem affecting all States of the Federation.
Findings from the Report show that more adolescent girls are in marriage in Bayelsa State (23.8 percent) than Adamawa 20.4 percent; Benue 20.2 percent; Taraba 18.1 percent; and Nasarawa 16.1 percent. Bayelsa also habours the highest number of females (aged 20 to 24 years) that have had at least a live birth before attaining the age of 18 years with 31.7 percent, compared to Adamawa, 30.5 percent; Taraba, 29.3 percent; and Niger ,24.9 percent. The three Northern states in turn score better than Delta, 22 percent; Rivers, 19.9 percent and Anambra, 18.9 percent.
According to the Report, Kebbi, Sokoto, Bauchi, Jigawa, Yobe, Zamfara, Katsina, and Gombe States not only have the lowest girl child education in the country, they also have the highest female illiteracy, highest adolescent girl marriage, highest under-15 and under-18 child bearing placing them in the highest risk category for maternal death and injury.
“The education theme of 2013 day of the girl child is crucial. The basic ability to to read and write is absolute minimum condition to function in a modern society, to escape from poverty and to contribute to community, national and African development,” Mr Rotimi Sankore, spokesperson for the groups said in a statement.
“Even in the best performing states there is still cause for concern – Edo and Ekiti states with the best secondary school attendance for girls still have up to 16 percent of girls not in secondary education; Lagos, Ekiti and Imo states with the least number of under age girls forced into marriage still have over 1 percent of girls in this terrible condition of forced domestic work, and sexual abuse; and Imo, Abia, Abuja, Enugu and Edo with the least number of under age child bearing still have between 0.8 percent and almost 6 percent of under age girls giving birth.”
Observing that the scale of the problem is self evident, Sankore urged the Governors’ Forum to give it their most urgent attention, especially from the eight Northern states where it is obvious that the educational, health and overall human development of girls is key to their development.
“The evidence also underline very strongly that poor educational attainment for girls, under age marriage and under age child bearing is not a northern or religious based problem – but a national problem.
“If 65 percent of teenage boys were forced into under age marriage with women old enough to be their grand mothers as in the worst performing state, there would be a national emergency. If 66 percent of teenage boys were forced into fathering children for older women as in the worst performing state, there would be a national emergency. The hypocrisy on gender equality and women’s development needs to end.“
Calling for urgent action on girls education, health, human and social development, Sankore argued: “We need evidence based policy making in Nigeria. The problem goes beyond Senator Ahmed Yerima. People like him only make headlines because we expect that a former state Governor and Senator should dedicate himself to creating an environment that protects under age girls from abuse and exploitation, rather than facilitating a negative environment.”