By Hajia Hadiza Mohammed
The girl child is the female child before adulthood; that is one below the age of eighteen. The girl child phase spans from infancy, childhood, pubescent to early adolescent age. It is usually a delicate period in the life of the child for her personality as well as physical, mental and emotional development.
The burning issue of the protection of the girl child has been of great concern to many for a long time. At the famous Beijing Conference in China, there were strategic objectives articulated as a means of holding governments accountable for the rights of the girl child.
The importance of caring for the girl child cannot be over-emphasized. As a woman, a mother and an activist involved in mentoring girls I know this experientially. When we recognize that the future of humanity is dependent on the family institution and that the wife or mother is central to the success of the family then the imperative of caring for the future wives (girl child) becomes crystal clear. The girl child should be equipped to face the challenges and uncertainties of life in the contemporary world.
The United Nations recognized the benefits to humanity of the girl child and since 2012 declared 11th October every year as the International Day of the Girl Child. This observance day, advocates more opportunities for girls, increased awareness on gender inequality, right to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care and all round protection for the Girl Child. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has this to say about the girl child: “We need to uphold the equal rights, voices and influence of girls in our families, communities and nations. Girls can be powerful agents of change, and nothing should keep them from participating fully in all areas of life.” Again, the UN Millennium Development Goals target increasing equality between girls’ and boys’ educational attainment.
A curious mind may ask why girl child’ why not children generally? Why this fuss about the girl child? The answer is simple. The girl child case is peculiarly different. It has physical, social and cultural dimensions. Physically, the girl child is vulnerable and prone to abuse and even from members of her family. In most cultures, the girl child is not allowed to pursue any ambition or career of her choice at all. They are only groomed for marriage only and prepared for a life of servitude with no right to complain or choice.
Many of our girls have suffered unimaginable forms of abuses from child-molestation, child-trafficking, child labour, rape, forced marriage, hawking, and exposure to indecent behaviours risk and danger, torture, deprivation, abduction, female genital mutilation, gender bias and discrimination (male child preference), and sexual exploitation. Our girls are clearly marginalised and relegated and at the root of it all is ignorance.
Personality problem and flawed perception of their identity and roles is often the aftermath of the discrimination against the girl child. And the unfortunate results have always manifested in the form, low self-esteem, disease infection, drug-addiction, prostitution, crimes, and even suicide. From the economic view point, it leads to loss of talents and man power. And socially, not caring for the girl-child will result in instability in the homes.
Essentially, caring for the girl-child involves protecting the girl-child from abuse, training the girl-child and providing for the girl-child. She should be protected from physical and emotional abuse. She should be trained, mentored and properly guarded. The girl-child naturally should be the daddy’s pet and the mommy’s companion. The girl-child is the daughter that should be dotted, loved and cared for at all times. A child that is loved will always appreciate love and will always share love. When you care for your child, she will be close to you and will confide in you. In that case she will not derail because she will find you a friend to confide in. She will not be afraid to ask you questions on anything that bothers her or of interest to her. Today the society appears to be in a state of decadence because the families are in shambles. It is no fault of our daughters but the fault of the society that did not prepare our daughters for the onerous task of marriage. The right moral and ethical values and family values is the product of socialization. But when this is lacking, the result is what we see today in our world.
The greatest empowerment should be education and then lowering the inequality and gender gaps. It is said that: “when you educate a man, you educate one but when you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” Girls are as equally endowed with skills and talents as men. Women have excelled and distinguished themselves in areas that once were thought to be the exclusive preserve of men. Without the girl child empowerment we would not have known the likes of Prof. Dora Akunyili, Hadiza Bala-Usman and many other women of timber and calibre in our nation today. Nigeria has over ten million out of school children and more than half of them are girls – our daughters, future wives and mothers. What level of care would ignorant and untrained mothers bequeath to children in this age and time? A well-trained girl-child is the future wife, mother and home-maker. So, the success and stability of the home invariably depends on the training and empowerment of the girl-child.
Advocacy and enlightenment is another vital tool for the promotion of the right of the girl child. There should be awareness of the needs of the girl child in terms of physical protection from sexual and physical exploitation, discrimination in all forms including in the field of education, and increased awareness of the struggles being faced by girls today. It is right to use every platform and every advocacy tools to draw attention to the issue of the girl child and bring an end to gender-based discrimination and violence.
Furthermore, we should articulate, sponsor and support legislations aimed at empowering the girl child. The Child right Act of 2003 prohibits child marriage. The Child’s Rights Act should be strengthened and implemented in all states. We need a national policy and affirmative action on the girl child. Now that we have the ministry of women affairs, we need an agency for the promotion of the rights of the girl child.
Thus, advocacy for the girl child or liberation is not a call for rebellion against the family or the state as erroneously believed but that of drawing attention to the plight of our daughters. We have to break the glass ceiling and liberate the girl child from oppression and cultural limitations by empowering them. And by implication allow the girl child to pursue her passion and maximise her potentials for the overall benefit of the family and humanity.
Hajia Hadiza Mohammed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org