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Friday, 19 October 2012


The last couple of weeks have seen the World’s attention focused on issues around the girl-child. Precisely on October 11th 2012, the World marked the first ever special day reserved by the United Nations as the International Day of the Girl Child. 

Incidentally, while the rest of the World paused for a while to reflect extensively on ways and means of promoting, protecting and enforcing legislative frameworks and laws that safeguard the rights of the girl child, the people of Pakistan were thrown into shock and trepidation over the attempted assassination of a foremost girl child activist little Miss. Malala Yousafzai by armed terrorists belonging to the banned Taliban gunmen while returning home on a school bus. 

The attempt on the life of this young school girl who has shown remarkable gifts and talents as a good speaker and defender of the educational right of the girl child, drew International condemnation.

The inspirational story of Miss. Malala Yousafzai as captured by the online encyclopedia Wikipedia has it that she was born in 1998 from the town of Mingora in the Swat District of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier province.
Malala according to documentary evidence is reputable as one of the best known Child rights activists of the contemporary times. She gained fame for her education and women’s rights activism in the Swat Valley, where the Taliban has at times banned girls from attending school. 

In early 2009, at the age of 11, Yousafzai wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban rule, their attempts to take control of the valley, and her views on promoting education for girls. The following summer, a New York Times documentary was filmed about her life as the Pakistani military intervened in the region, culminating in the Second Battle of Swat. Yousafzai began to rise in prominence, giving interviews in print and on television, and taking a position as chairperson of the District Child Assembly Swat. She has since been nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu, and has won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. 

Miss. Malala can as well be described as the new little ‘Nelson Mandela’ of our time.
I have keenly followed the ordeals of this beautiful girl since she was unfortunately shot by the bandits who do not have regards for human life and I can attest that she has provided inspiration for other girl child activists especially in a developing society like Nigeria and the rest of Africa to join the global advocacy to improve respect for the fundamental rights of all children and especially the girl child since all human rights are universal; inalienable; sacrosanct and inviolable.

Before Malala was airlifted to a British hospital for treatment in the wake of her attack by the armed terrorists, I watched the former premier of Britain Mr. Gordon Brown on the international media as he waged global-wide advocacy for World leaders to provide concrete support for the kind of Inspirational work and advocacy activities that the likes of Miss Malala has launched.

Mr. Gordon Brown who appeared on a special interview session with the UK-based television station-Skynews to inaugurate a United Nations petition in the name of Miss. Malala using the slogan “I am Malala,” demanded that all children World-wide be in school by the end of 2015. The former British premier Mr. Gordon Brown said he would hand over the petition to Pakistan’s President Mr. Asif Ali Zardari in November.
I was also opportune to have watched one of Malala’s recent interview by the United States-based Cable News Network (CNN) and was indeed proud of her display of prodigious intellect and wisdom when she clearly stated in very polished English language that “It is not true that the Islamic religion forbids girl child education. If I have a meeting with Taliban I will tell them that the Islamic religion promotes girl child education”.
The interesting dimension of Malala’s human rights advocacy is that it appears that the pivot of her campaign molded and inspired the United Nations’ introduction of the first ever international day of the Girl Child.

On October 11th 2012, the United Nations marked the first ever International Day of the girl child by calling for an end to child marriage, and stressed that education is a strategic background for protecting girls against this harmful practice.
“Education for girls is one of the best strategies for protecting girls against child marriage”, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day. “When they are able to stay in school and avoid being married early, girls can build a foundation for a better life for themselves and their families”.
“Let us do our part to let girls be girls, not brides,” he stated, urging governments, community and religious leaders, civil society, the private sector, and families-especially men and boys-to promote the rights of girls.
The International Day of the Girl Child was designated as 11 October by a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2011, to recognize girls’ rights and highlight the unique challenges girls face worldwide. The theme of this year’s observance is ‘Ending Child Marriage.’

Approximately 70 million young women today were married before age 18, according to the UN, which notes that child marriage denies a girl her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, increases her risk of being a victim of violence and abuse, and jeopardizes her health.

Girls with low levels of schooling are more likely to be married early, and child marriage has been shown to almost always end a girl’s education, the UN adds. Conversely, girls with secondary schooling are up to six times less likely to child marriage, according to the UN.

Nigeria is a case study of where government and indeed even the legislators pay lip service to these two fundamental rights of the girl child which are freedom from early marriage and right to sound education.

Few months back, a serving Senator of the Nigeria’s National Assembly was accused of marrying a suspected girl child of 13 years from Egypt but when different groups demanded his prosecution, the federal government through the office of the Federal Attorney General Criminally compromised and failed to protect the fundamental rights of this Egyptian girl child even when there is an extant law against such practice known as the Child Rights Act of 2003 which was passed validly by the Nigeria’s National Assembly of which the suspected high profile violator is a member.

A presenter with one of Nigeria’s best known Radio Stations-Ray power fm, Mrs. Queen Kunde told me that government’s lip service to the rights of the girl child is deeply entrenched.

Queen, who is a mother herself, disclosed that while President Jonathan rightly inaugurated the Almajiri educational rescue project for the over ten million street boys in Northern Nigeria who are out of formal schooling, the same government failed to introduce similar program for the girl child in Nigeria who largely face child labor such as street hawking and lack of education. 

The Federal government needs to urgently redress this systemic anomaly because what is good for the goose is also good for the gander, so goes the wise saying.
Nigeria is also blessed with talented young girls who have used their enormous gifts to campaign for the respect of the fundamental rights of the girl child.

In the 1980’s, Nigeria witnessed the emergence of an enormously talented young girl child by name Miss. Tosin Jegede who excelled in the music industry and indeed used her music talents to call on all stakeholders in the Nigerian project to train the girl child educationally and save them from child trafficking; sexual molestation and early marriage.
Punch Newspaper of Nigeria on July 20th 2012 published a brief story on the remarkable activities of Tosin Jegede who has now grown to full adulthood and has also achieved so much academically.
According to Punch Newspapers, Tosin Jegede ruled the Nigerian music scene as one of the youngest child stars in the 80s. Renowned for persuasive songs, ‘urging parents to listen to their children and pay their school fees’, her foray into music began at age 4.
During her time, NTA Channel 5, 7 and 10 were the only TV stations in Lagos as such her music videos enjoyed generous air play.

She left the country 16 years ago, with three albums to her credit and then returned briefly in 2005, to stage a visual arts exhibition of her some of her works.
After bagging a degree in Business Decision and Analysis from the University of Bristol, London, she finally returned to Nigeria four years after. She also worked briefly in the UK as Pension Adviser.

Now in her late 20s, Punch recalled that the chubby artiste lost her mother, Mrs. Martha Jegede, recently after being diagnosed with a muscle disease.
The anti-human trafficking agency (NAPTIP) building upon some of the inspirational works of great children like the then little Tosin Jegede, should be empowered to independently prosecute habitual abusers of children without necessarily waiting for the Federal Attorney General to authorize such prosecution. 

The National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria with the new independence that the National Assembly gave it, must partner actively with sister organizations like NAPTIP and credible civil society groups to consistently put the issues around the rights of the girl child and indeed the Nigerian child on the front burner of national discourse.  

Mrs. Funmi Femi-Falana rightly noted in her new book titled “Girl Child education in Nigeria”, that ‘an untrained girl child is indeed an untrained society’.

* Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS’ ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA                               


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