•Gov vows to stamp out child marriage in Edo
•Parents, teachers who abuse children to face sanctions
•As field officers comb communities for victims
By Evelyn Usman
Millions of girls across the globe especially underaged, have had their rights violated owing to early marriage. Many of them have been robbed of their childhood experience and denied the right to take decision about their sexual health and general well being.
Many who had the dreams of transforming their lives through education, ended up having such dreams shattered by being forced out of school, as soon as they started, by their parents or guardians and are plunged into a life of abuse, ill-health and sometimes death.
Despite being prohibited by international law, early or forced marriage still thrive in major countries across the globe, either secretly or openly, under the cover of cultural or religious belief.
In sub-saharan African, 38% of girls had become child brides according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF.
UNICEF also revealed that 30% of girls growing up in South Asia, experience early marriage, compared with 25% in Latin America and the Caribbean while it is 17% in the Middle East and North Africa, and 11% in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
It further revealed that 12 million girls marry before the age of 18 each year – almost one in every 2 seconds. If urgent steps are not taken, it is envisaged that more than 150 million girls will become child brides by 2030.
Nigeria is not an exception in child bride though government at different levels have been making efforts to address this menace which is also put at the doorstep of poverty, ignorance and lack of exposure on the parts of parents and guardians.
Nigeria, is one of the countries with the highest number of out of school children globally, with an estimated figure of 13 million Nigerian boys and girls that are not in school.
While some of these boys end up constituting nuisance in the society, most of the girls either end up being prostitutes or married off to men old enough to be their fathers.
In Edo state for instance, 26 per cent of girls are married before their 18th birthday and seven per cent are married before the age of 15, according to girlsnotbrides, a social advocacy group against child marriage. Most of these young girls terminate their schooling to become wives, thus increasing the number of out of school children.
A case that readily comes to mind is that of Memunatu Musa, a 14-year-old pupil of Enikaro Primary School in Benin City, Edo State.
Her dream of becoming a Medical Doctor someday, was shattered due to her parent’s inability to finance her primary education, let alone seeing her though the university. An alternative option was for her parents to marry her off to a 50-year-old man in Katsina state
Luck, however, smiled on her through the intervention of the Edo State Basic education Sector Transformation, EDOBEST programme, executed by Social mobilization Officers across the state, as she was rescued and reintegrated into school again!
The Social Mobilisation Officers retrained teachers who have become field officers and were sent into various communities in the state to interact with parents and check on pupils who were out of school to ascertain the reasons.
One of them attached to Memunatu’s school in his normal routine, observed from the records supplied through the EdoBEST initiative that the young pupil had been out of school for nearly a week.
Bothered by the unusual trend, he sent an SOS message to the head teacher who approved that they should connect the family of the pupil.
The team arrived at the girl’s home in the early hours of Thursday, 24, October 2019, only to be informed by her parents that she had been been married off to a man in Katsina.
The team quickly reached out to the Executive Chairman, Edo State Universal Basic Education Board, (SUBEB), Dr Joan Osa Oviawe, who immediately communicated the news to Governor Godwin Obaseki, and who on his part, called his counterpart in Katsina State, Governor Aminu Masari, to ensure the safe return of the primary school pupil.
The marriage was immediately annulled while the girl was reunited with her family and classmates in her community in Edo, to continue in her vision of transforming her life and that of her family through education.
Given the impact it achieved at the primary level, the programme is expected to be extended to the junior secondary school level in the state.
Apart from its positive transformation in the state’s education sector, the reform programme is targeted at achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all).
Governor Obaseki’s initiatives in the sector has not gone unnoticed. In a recently published commentary on its website, the World Economic Forum, WEF applauded the EdoBEST initiative for improving learning outcomes among pupils in primary schools across the state and described Governor Obaseki, as a trailblazer who is “quickly and dramatically lifting the quality of government schools and up-skilling teachers in his low-income state.”
According to the WEF, “education experts around the world and across Africa, in particular, are paying close attention to EdoBEST, and has become a beacon of light to other education ministries”.
Governor Obaseki has however pledged his resolve to continue to work with the federal government in ensuring that child marriage is stamped out from Edo state and the country at large, with a view to giving children the opportunity to attain their full potential.
The governor also disclosed that his administration would set up a mechanism to punish parents and teachers who abuse children in the state.