The Executive Director of the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA), Babatunde Osotimehin, took a massive campaign against early girl-child marriage and the need to allow young girls stay in school so as to attain their full potentials to some states in the north, Hassan Zaggi reports.
Few days ago, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), launched a massive advocacy visits to three northern states to advocate that young girls be allowed to stay in school so that they can attain their full potentials.
This will also reduce the incidences of early marriage and its associated health consequences, prominent among them is, Vesico Virginal Fistula (VVF).
The three states include Kano, Kaduna and Borno .
The visit, many keen observers believe is timely because, the 2013 National Demographic Health Survey indicated that only 4% of girls complete secondary school in the North and over 71% of women in the north-west zone are unable to read and write.
These poor literacy indicators are believed to have fueled the high rates of maternal and child deaths and illness in the region.
The survey highlights linkages between the level of education of the mother and her corresponding health behavior. The low retention of girls in school continues to serve as one of the social determinants of poor adolescent health outcomes.
Kano State was the first port of call, where, apart from the visit to the Governor of the State, Abdullahi Ganduje, by the UNFPA team which was led by its Executive Director, Babatunde Osotimehin, the Sarkin Kano, Muhammadu Lamido Sanusi II was also honoured as the Grand Patron for Adolescent Health and Family Planning.
Speaking during his investiture, the Sarkin Kano, in his usual manner of saying the raw truth to powers that be no matter how they feel, bluntly told northern political, religious and traditional leaders to be ready to answer deep questions from God for the current situation of women in the region.
“It is important that as Muslim leaders in the northern part of the country, we should critically look at the condition of our people and the trust given to us by God to protect the lives and property and dignity of the populace.
“We should ask ourselves, can we be able to answer the questions that God will ask us concerning the current condition of Muslim women in our region?
“Every day we hear that our people take their adolescent daughters between the age of 11 and 13 and give them out for marriage.
“When she wants to deliver, no proper care, and she ends up with VVF and leaking urine. Either on the process of delivery, she died or she delivered the baby and it dies.
“If we raise the issue, our people will say that is the way God wants it, but we know that God does not hate us. Why is it that it is only in our region that high number of women die during child birth. Why is it that this VVF is predominant in our part of the world? And why is it that it is in our region that deaths are rampant?,” the Sarkin Kano queried.
The royal father warned leaders at all levels in the north that if they fail to take urgent measures to provide qualitative education for both the boys and girls, danger lies ahead for the region.
According to him: “The education of both boys and girls is very important, if not, we have seen what is happening with us in some states in the north. Our children have become terrorist, taking hard drugs including married women with no education.
“If we fail to take seriously the education of our boys and girls, these security challenges we are having in the north will be worst in the years ahead.”
While painting a gloomy picture of the situation, Lamido Sanusi said: “In Nigeria, we have a population of over 170 million, half of this population around 70 million are not more than 19 years old. For this reason, in the next 20 years if we are still alive, in Nigeria, we will have youth within the range of 20-40, at least 80 million which is equivalent to the total population of Germany currently, and most of these population is in the north and without education, how are we going to do with them, both men and women?”
He called on leaders of the region to support any organization either local or foreign that volunteered to support in providing education and other services to young people in the north.
While accusing the elites in the country for double standard, the royal father said: “Most of our leaders in this country don’t give their daughters out for marriage until they finish university and even high degrees. There is no any leader in this country that will remove his daughter from the primary school and give her out for marriage.
“Any girl-child that is born in Kano state or in any part of the country, whom, we, the leaders, allow her to be removed from school and given out in marriage, God will ask us.”
He, however, called on the heads of United Nations agen
cies that they should put into consideration the traditional and religious belief of any people before bringing any programme aimed at improving their lives.
Speaking at the investiture ceremony, the UNFPA Executive Director, Professor Babatunde Osotimehin, said that the royal father was honoured as Grand Patron for women and children’s health for “standing up for what is right and true to championing the cause of women and girls and for demonstrating passion for uplifting the lives of the people.”
He explained that his agency gives greater attention to young girls because they are more likely to face violence, early marriage and early childbearing, child labour, female genital mutilation and other undermining practices that threaten their lives and health.
He, however, insisted that “how we invest in and support women and girls today will determine what our world will look like years from now.”
Speaking earlier during a courtesy visit to the Governor, the UNFPA Executive Director, disclosed that VVF is a symptom of a failed system, insisting that women should not be allowed to be affected by the condition..
He called on governments at all levels to work towards getting girls go and to stay in school and make sure they don’t get married early.
“I know this is pretty difficult, sometimes cultural/ religious thing. The truth of the matter is a girl who goes and stays in school until she is around 18 is a better than a girl who has a child at 10 years old and she will survive, the baby will survive and do well and she also will do better,” he noted.
On his part, the Executive Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje, vows to continue to work closely with the UNFPA, because, according to him, it is aware of the terrain in Nigeria and also know what to do in order to reduce and eradicate the menace of VVF and other health and social problems that are typical of developing countries like Nigeria.
“We understand that in order to reduce this issue of VVF, we have to improve our health facilities. Luckily enough, we have a tripartite agreement with some foreign organisations including Bill and Melinda gates and Dangote foundation.
“That gave us the opportunity to improve our health facilities in the rural areas so that our expectant mothers have access to them.
“We have adopted the training of Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs). Last year, we trained 1,936 TBAs, we have 484 political wards and we took 4 to each political ward and provided them with kits and they are assisting us at the grassroots and also follow up in the hospitals and we use them to collect data on health issues,” the governor explained.