Girls Not Brides

It is becoming increasingly worrisome that the priorities of African leaders are

somewhat warped from those of the rest of the world. The issues that beggar

attention and can lead to sustainable growth and development are always not of interest to our policymakers and lawmakers. However, those issues that do not contribute to human capital development or better standards of living but fulfil some ‘religious or cultural’ obligation always seem more important. Our political elites are not as clueless as we make them out to be. The earlier we accept this fact, the better for us. They are very clever and know how to give the mob what they want to perpetuate themselves in power. Thus, they continue to feed us with the narrative that they don’t know what they are doing while in actual sense they do.

Or how else do you explain the recent plans by the Speaker of the Niger State House of Assembly, Abdulmalik Sarkindaji to marry off 100 girls orphaned by insurgents and terrorism in Mariga LGA as a constituency obligation? Simple. This single action will resonate with the millions living in poverty and deprivation in the area while also feeding into a ‘religious and cultural’ frenzy.

While the rest of the world has recognized that human capital is the greatest asset and is committed to investing in and developing the youth and future generations to compete effectively in the global village, Nigerian lawmakers want to marry off girls and continue to perpetuate a cycle of poverty and inequality. This cycle will ensure that the current political class and their offsprings continue to remain in power while the poor and their offspring continue to lack the agency, voice, and power to challenge them.


A Disturbing Trend 

Globally, 244 million children and youth between the ages of 6 and 18 were out of school according to the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report in 2022. 16 per cent of children and youth from primary to upper secondary are not attending school while at primary level, 1 out of 10 children worldwide are not in school. Out of this number, a total of 122 million, or 48 per cent of the out-of-school population are girls and young women.

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Overall, 98 million or the largest share of out-of-school children and youth are found in sub-Saharan Africa, where the number is increasing. Of those, 20 million are in Nigeria, up from 13 million in 2010. This means that Nigeria holds the unenviable position as the country with the third largest out-of-school population in the world after India and Pakistan with only 63 per cent attendance by primary school age children according to UNICEF.

Furthermore, data projections using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG4) benchmarks show that by 2030, 84 million more children and youth are at risk of being out of school. Only one in six countries will meet the target of universal secondary education and, just four in ten youth in sub-Saharan Africa will be completing secondary school.

These figures should bother us all especially lawmakers and policymakers. However, some legislators and religious leaders are more concerned about marrying off underage girls as a constituency and poverty alleviation project. Thus, early marriage remains a complex challenge due to deep-rooted cultural practices and societal norms, poverty, and lack of economic opportunities for girls and their families and insufficient enforcement of laws and policies protecting girls' rights.


Misplaced Priorities, Weaponisation of Poverty

Despite these troubling statistics, the most important social service that a lawmaker wants to bestow on his constituents at this time is marriage of girls who can't afford their own wedding registration costs of N27,000 ($18). How would they fend for their children when married?

This is not the first time a lawmaker has proposed marriage as the solution to the plight of orphaned girls. In 2023, Sani Yakubu Noma, lawmaker representing Argungu/Augie federal constituency of Kebbi state House of Representatives, set up a committee and procured beds, mattresses, essential furniture, and other matrimonial commodities for the wedding of 100 female orphans as his contributions to their welfare.

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There must be something about our society that emboldens its people to legislate women and girls seeing them as commodities to be given off in marriage as the best way to ‘empower’ them. This stems from a culture of poverty and illiteracy. The sad thing about weaponization of poverty and illiteracy is that politicians and the elites can exploit the situation to their advantage. Religious and cultural beliefs that are enforced on only those who do not have the economic power to determine their own agency is injustice.

Statistics show that girls who are married off early are at risk of health challenges like Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF) during childbirth, face higher risks of gender-based violence and tend to continue the cycle of poverty because they do not have the skills, knowledge or resources to make better choices. Our education system needs a state of emergency to drive investments and political commitment towards ensuring girls and boys complete a full course of primary and secondary education.


Let Girls Be Girls

When girls complete a full course of primary and secondary education, the positive outcomes are multifaceted, impacting not only the girls themselves but also their families, communities, and broader society. They can achieve their full potential because investing in girls improves gender equality, sustainable growth, and development outcomes for the country.

Educated girls gain personal and economic empowerment through increased earning potential because they are more likely to secure better-paying jobs. Studies show that each additional year of schooling can increase a girl's future earnings by up to 20% according to the World Bank. With higher levels of education, girls gain the skills and qualifications necessary to enter the workforce, leading to greater economic independence and the ability to contribute to household income.

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Educated girls become educated women who are more likely to make informed health decisions for themselves and their families. They tend to have fewer, healthier children and are more likely to seek prenatal care and other health services. Children of educated mothers are more likely to survive infancy and beyond. An additional year of maternal education can reduce the risk of child mortality by 5-10% according to the National Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

There are social cultural benefits to education including empowerment and agency because it enhances girls' confidence and decision-making abilities, enabling them to participate more fully in societal and political processes. Girls who complete secondary education are less likely to marry early because education increases awareness of their rights and provides alternatives to early marriage.

Educating girls can significantly boost economic growth. As more women enter the workforce, the overall productivity of a nation increases. Educated women are more likely to contribute to social and cultural change, challenging discriminatory practices and advocating for gender equality.

Education also enhances better family dynamics and better parenting. Educated mothers are more likely to value education for their children, leading to higher educational attainment for the next generation. The positive effects of educating girls extend to future generations, creating a cycle of improved health, economic stability, and education.

Finally, completing primary and secondary education provides girls with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to transform their lives and their communities. It is one of the most effective ways to promote sustainable development and gender equality globally. Educating girls is critical to achieving several SDGs, including those related to poverty reduction, health, gender equality, and economic growth.

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About Author
God'swill Ofigo
Nigeria Blogger / Social Media Promoter/ Talent Manager/ Entertainer/ CEO OfyNaija Blog. WhatsApp: 0904709861

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