In a world where the struggle for gender equality continues to be an ongoing battle, the significance of the International Day of the Girl-child (IDG) could not be more pronounced.
On this day, observed annually on 11 October, we find ourselves at a crucial juncture in the fight for girls’ rights, an opportunity to address the pressing issues that hinder their well-being and thwart their progress.
It is instructive to note that this year’s theme, “Invest in Girls’ Rights: Our Leadership, Our Well-being,” is a poignant reminder that the rights of girls are not only a matter of justice but also a global imperative. Across the globe, movements and actions persist in attempts to curtail the rights of girls and women, and to roll back progress on gender equality.
These regressive measures manifest in various forms, from maternal health care and parenting support for adolescent mothers to digital and life skills training, comprehensive sexuality education, survivor support services, and violence prevention programs.
In the considered opinion of this newspaper, the dire need for increased attention and resources in these key areas is a clarion call to enable girls to realise their rights and fulfill their full potential. Startling statistics from UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund reveal a grim reality in Nigeria, where Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) continues to affect a significant number of women and girls.
Nigeria ranks third in the world for the highest number of women and girls who have undergone FGM. The statement reveals that 4.3 million girls are at risk of FGM in 2023, with the projection of this number rising to 4.6 million by 2030. Urgent action is paramount to prevent the world from missing the target of ending FGM by 2030.
Nigeria also bears the burden of having the highest number of child brides in West and Central Africa. Shockingly, the number of girls and women who were married before the legal age are staggering, reaching 23.6 million. Among them, 10.3 million were married before the age of 15, while 23.6 million were married before the age of 18. This practice not only robs these girls of their childhood but also endangers their physical and psychological well-being.
The security situation in Nigeria has added to the plight of girls. The onslaught of Boko Haram and bandits targeting schools and abducting schoolchildren disproportionately affects girls. In the face of rising insecurity, particularly in rural areas, many families have withdrawn their daughters from schools, exacerbating the gender gap in education.
The right to education, a fundamental human right, is being systematically denied these young girls.
Furthermore, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) reveals a shocking reality of human trafficking. In 2021, the agency received 570 trafficking cases between January and June, rescuing a total of 741 victims by June. Most alarmingly, 85 percent of the rescued victims were female, and 45 percent were under the age of 18. Human trafficking remains a pervasive issue, with girls bearing the brunt of its horrors.
In our view, the International Day of the Girl 2023 serves as a reminder that the world must unite in a collective effort to secure the rights, dignity, and future of girls. It is time for global leaders, policymakers, and civil society to take immediate and decisive action. Investment in healthcare, education, and social support systems that address the specific needs of girls is paramount. The fight against FGM must be intensified through comprehensive awareness campaigns, legal reforms, and stringent enforcement.
The epidemic of child marriages must be halted with stringent legal measures and community-driven initiatives that challenge harmful norms and practices. The security challenges faced by girls in conflict zones must be met with immediate and targeted interventions to ensure their safety and access to education. The international community must also provide unwavering support for Nigeria and other nations grappling with similar crises.
To combat human trafficking, nations must strengthen law enforcement efforts, provide victim support, and work towards eliminating the root causes of this heinous crime. Empowering girls with the knowledge and skills to protect themselves is crucial in preventing human trafficking.
On this International Day of the Girl, let us make a solemn commitment to the well-being and empowerment of girls. It is not just a matter of upholding their rights; it is an investment in a brighter and more equitable future for all.
As a global community, we cannot afford to falter or fail our girls. Their leadership and well-being are essential to the progress of humanity, and we must act decisively to secure their rightful place in a just and equal world.