Abuja, Nigeria As the world celebrated International Day of the Girl Child yesterday, a new report by Save the Children International revealed that gender inequality has continued to fuel child marriage, with an estimated 44% of girls in Nigeria marrying before their 18th birthday, one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.
The report also revealed that child marriage kills more than 60 girls every day around the world.
Similarly, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed that in Nigeria, an estimated 1.3 million girls drop out of school each year before reaching the last year of lower secondary school, also known as Junior Secondary School, three (JSS 3).
In a related development, the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) yesterday called on government at all levels in Nigeria to do everything possible to reduce the digital gender gap in the country.
The Save the Children International, a global organisation, said girls in Nigeria were living in difficult times as a result of armed conflict, humanitarian crisis, kidnapping, natural disaster, displacement, COVID-19 pandemic, and economic recession.
The organisation stated this in this year’s Global Girlhood Report titled, “The State of Nigerian Girls: An Incisive Diagnosis of Child, Early and Forced Marriage in Nigeria.” The group stated that Nigerian girls were living in one of the most difficult times,.
It added that millions of girls faced the risk of being pushed into deprivation, including reduced access to education, nutrition, lack of protection and lack of access to basic social services.
It stated, “More than an estimated 22,000 girls a year are dying from pregnancy and childbirth resulting from child marriage, new analysis from Save the Children released on International Day of the Girl reveals.
“With the highest rate of child marriage in the world, West and Central Africa accounts for nearly half (9,600) of all estimated child marriage-related deaths globally, or 26 deaths a day. The regional teenage maternal mortality rate is four times higher than anywhere else in the world.”
The report stated that said South Asia presently saw about 2,000 child marriage-related deaths every year (or six every day), followed by East Asia and the Pacific with 650 deaths (or two every day), and Latin American and the Caribbean, with 560 annual deaths (or nearly two a day).
It noted that although nearly 80 million child marriages globally had been prevented in the last 25 years, progress had stalled even before the COVID-19 pandemic–which has only worsened inequalities that drive child marriage.
The report said with school closures, health services under strain or closed, and more families being pushed into poverty, women and girls faced an increased risk of violence during lengthy lockdowns.
The report estimated that 10 million girls were expected to marry by 2030, leaving more girls at risk of dying.
Meanwhile, UNICEF has stated that to close the huge gap of out-of-school female children in Nigeria, compared to that of the boys, digital inclusion, and specifically digital literacy, was key. It stressed that this was becoming crucial to well-being and success, as the ability to read and write.
UNICEF Deputy Representative, Mrs.Rushnan Murzata, who revealed these in Abuja, said adolescent girls were particularly vulnerable to societal dynamics that limited their transition from primary to secondary school.
With the 2021 theme tagged “Digital Generation: Our Generation, Digital Revolution: Not without Girls”, the deputy representative stated, “Today we want to focus on two concerns to improve the lives of adolescent girls and provide them with equal opportunities: transition to secondary education and digital literacy, digital access and use.”
Murzata said the theme of this year’s celebration came amid efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to build a future generation with employability skills development.
She said, “Over 1.3 million Nigerian adolescent girls are estimated to drop out every year before reaching the last year of lower secondary education.
“The gender digital divide in connectivity access to devices and the skills to use are real. Girls are less privileged in this area. This inequality has created an exclusion gap across geographies and generations. If we want to make digital revolution for all, and by all, a reality, then we need to act now with and for girls.”
In a similar vein, Minister of Women Affairs, Paulen Tallen, stated that the report showed the average transition rate from lower basic education to upper basic stood at 58 per cent for the northern states of Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara.
Represented by 12 years old Nana Firdausi Bashir from Kebbi State, the minister stated that the national average for girl’s transition from primary to junior secondary stood at 64 per cent, nothing that even the national average was unacceptable.
She lamented that despite the opportunities that came as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, losses were also recorded such as “Online learning came with series of challenges, including access to data, poor digital skills for learner’s, teachers and parents and unavailability of the necessary equipment.”
She added that statistics had shown that 89 per cent of learners did not have home computers, 82 per cent did not have internet; with girls more likely to be cut off, and 37 per cent of the youths remained unemployed due to lack of digital skills to match current required labour skills.
Female Lawyers Seek Reduction in Digital Gender Gap
FIDA, in a statement, lamented that just as the girl child was disadvantaged in education, she also had disadvantage in the area of digital technologies.
Country Vice President/National President, Mrs. Rhoda Tyoden stated said, “We acknowledge that to relate in our modern world today, digital literacy is an essential skill without which girls will have fewer employment opportunities and will face additional barriers to workforce participation.
“We must, therefore, appreciate this challenge and then seek to properly equip them to be great in this generation.
“While we are still grappling with tackling the ills faced by the girl child, we need to also work towards mitigating the digital gender gap so we can equally create opportunities and carve a niche for girl child participation.”
Referencing a UNICEF report, Tyoden stated that while the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital platforms for learning, earning, and connecting, some 2.2 billion people below the age of 25 still did not have Internet access at home.
Stating that the gender gap for global Internet users grew from 11 per cent in 2013, to 17 per cent in 2019, FIDA argued that girls were more likely to be cut off.
It said, “In the world’s least developed countries, it hovers around 43 per cent; this calls for grave concern. Inequality in education is also a major contributor to the gender digital divide.
“To this end, FIDA Nigeria calls for collective efforts from all – the government, parents, guardians, civil society organisations, FBOs, international institutions, and their agencies – to help the plight of the Nigerian girl-child by educating them, bridging the inequality and digital gender gap, and creating opportunities for them to culminate into strong women leaders.”
Women lawyers also celebrated girls excelling in education, particularly IT, Digital Technology particularly Jessica Osita, Promise Nnalue, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo, Vivian Okoyewho.
The girls from Regina Pacis Secondary School, Onitsha, Anambra State, represented Nigeria and Africa at the World Technovation Challenge in the Silicon Valley, San Francisco, USA won the Gold Medal in the contest.
FIDA said, “They won the challenge with a mobile application called the FD-Detector which they developed to help tackle the challenge of fake pharmaceutical products in Nigeria. They are worthy poster children, so others can emulate.”
FIDA further said it “Celebrates women who are already working in the digital space and call upon them to work more closely with the girl child, helping in creating necessary platforms and opportunities for the girl child to use thereby supporting in closing the gender gap in this sector.
“We also celebrate female digital tech champions such as Adora Nwodo a Software Engineer at Microsoft. Abiola Eniola Aminu, a Product Designer at Flutter-wave. Omolara Adejuwon, an Editor at ProAndroidDev, amongst others who have so far accomplished giant strides in this sector despite known challenges. They stand today as great inspirations and worthy mentors to the girl child.”