As Nigeria mark the 2019 international day of the girl child, a cross-section of young girls lament that the society confuse them on issues around reproductive health and rights.
“We bear the brunt” was the clear message all the girls who spoke sent out during a media round table organised by Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) and Society for Family Health (SFH)
To the girls between 14 to 25, there is so much gender based violence, stigmatization, and stereotyping as well as inexplicable policies and practices around reproductive health at all levels that leave girls confused and unhappy.
From the various submissions the girls also expressed frustrations and bitterness and are demanding action because they equally experience poor parental communication and understanding of reproductive health.
According to these girls, society’s expectation is that of living scripted lives determined by other people who do not know their needs or desires, while decisions that concern them, including educational choices, are taken without involving or consulting them.
“The girl child wants her voice to be heard; she wants to work, pursue a career and become relevant in the society without restriction; she wants to be at liberty to marry at will and to a man of her choice,” declared Synderella Bulus, Young Designer with the Adolescents 360 Project implemented by Society for Family Health. She made a presentation on the topic, “What Does the Nigerian Girl Child Want?”
Bulus noted that most adolescent girls lack parental care and support as they are seen to soon end up in a man’s house as wives, and while finances are readily available for other things, it is usually not for the girl child’s education as she is not made a priority.
In her submission, when the girl child is educated, she is coerced to study a particular course, and not the course of her choice just because she is a girl. Worse, girls are pressured into not coming back home after graduation without getting all set for marriage
Grace Maduka, an out-of-school girl from Kurudu District, Karshi Road, FCT, pointed out why it is necessary to educate mothers on issues around reproductive health.
She noted that many do not understand sexual and reproductive health and rights issues, particularly rape because most are judgmental. “A girl is raped and is in pain, and all her mother has to says, ‘What were you wearing?’”
According to her, “Some girls get pregnant through rape, and they’re afraid to talk to their mothers or other elders because they are going to be insulted, judged or crucified; so they go to friends who may not know much either. They end up in some small clinic for abortion, and in the end lose their womb”
In the words of Aishatu Idris, “Most mothers have no good relationship with their daughters. Once your mother gives birth to you, you’re on your own. They don’t educate girls at all about reproductive health”!
Idris emphasized the need for reproductive health intervention programmes for boys too bemoaning the clogging of intervention programmes only for girls describing it as “unhealthy”.
She quipped, “Boys are left out. One of my male friends once asked me, ‘Why is it just girls, girls, girls… Did God create only girls? We girls are just much more vulnerable, but then a girl can’t impregnate herself,”
In corroboration, Deputy Director Gender, Adolescents, School Health and Elderly Care – GASHE Mrs. Oluyemisi Ayoola noted, “It is a beautiful thing that we’re programming for girls and giving them wings to fly, but oftentimes the wings are clipped by some of the relationships they start.
“If we really want our adolescent girls to soar, we cannot leave out adolescent boys. We should also programme for boys because, if we’re aiming for demographic dividends, we cannot achieve it with the girls alone… Boys are also abused. Boys need to learn about relationships – that love is not sex, and if a girl says “no”, her “no” is “no”.
However, Project Director, Adolescents 360 Project, Hajiya Fatima Muhammad explained, “We seem to be more concerned about girls because it is girls who bear the brunt of the things that are not right about SRH in Nigeria, and violence from males—pregnancy, stigma, trauma and the likes.
In his remarks, Chair of the Association for the Advancement of Family Planning, Dr Ejike Oji, noted that the event was an opportunity to discuss issues of inequality that affect girls and make it impossible for them to have access to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care, and even protection from discrimination.
According to Oji, “In Nigeria, it has become an issue right now – if you look at what is happening in the insurgent states, in the IDP camps where women and girls who have run for dear life.. and are being abused by the same people that we have given the responsibility to protect them. There is a lot of sexual violence going on in the insurgent states as we speak”, said Oji.
Oji observed also that issues of forced marriages and marriages to “toddlers” are rife while the nation does “ostrich hiding” pretending girls are not sexually active, thereby sending them to “the gallows” and exposing them to harm.
“Age of sexual debut in Nigeria is around 15 to 16 years; they’re still girls, but there is insufficient exposure to family planning, which is why contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) is at a lowly 10 per cent while some countries take FP to secondary schools and thereby have substantial CPRs.
“Now, as the voice of the youth, we’re calling on the government, we’re calling on parents, political leaders, all policy makers, to create systems and structures that will address all the Reproductive Health issues and create conducive spaces for girls to access services, so that their lives will be unscripted and unstoppable. We don’t want girls to be stopped, we want to be heard, we want to be unstoppable, we don’t want you to create lives for us,” averred Bulus.
Another Presenter, Nigeria Gender Programme of the United Nations Population Fund, Dr. Zubaida Abubakar, reeled out that as follows:
- Population: Girls age 10-19 yrs = 17 million
- Girls with primary education: 56.7%
- Girls with secondary education: 45.7%
- Marital status: 6% married by age of 15
- Teenage pregnancy: 23% of girls aged 15-19
- Maternal deaths in girls 15-19 years:
- 30% of all maternal deaths (576 per 100,000 LBs)
- 17,400 deaths in 2015
- Experience of physical or sexual violence
- 28% girls age 15-19
These girls have the potential to be a huge resource for Nigeria but currently only 56% have a primary education. 11% are already married at the age of 15, and one third (28%) by the age of 19. Many of them become mothers before age 19, with high risk of maternal deaths and complications, and more than 17,000 girls die every year because of these complications. One third of them experience physical or sexual violence.
- Completion of primary school
- 69% South West
- 25% North East
- 27% North West
- Experience of sexual violence; women 15-49 years by zone (NDHS 2013)
- Total: 7%; North east 16%; North west 2%
- Experience of physical violence women 15-49 by zone ( NDHS 2013
- Total: 28%; south south 52%; north west 2%
- Nigeria has the largest number of child brides in Africa and one of the highest early marriage prevalence rates in the world:
- 23 million girls and women were married as children.
- Currently, 43 percent of girls are married before age 18, and 17 percent are married before they turn 15.