To educate means to train the mind, character and abilities of individuals. Education is a fundamental human right that should be availed to all citizens irrespective of age, sex and nationality. There are a lot of human right instruments that provide for education as a fundamental right, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
The importance of education in the life of an individual can never be overemphasised. In both spiritual and temporal or mundane aspects of human existence, education is paramount. It is the light that shows the way by removing the darkness of ignorance; the salt that gives the taste of life; the medicine that cures; and the key which open doors.
The greatest favour one can do to himself or herself is “to get education” and to others “to give them education”. According to a Chinese proverb, education is the best legacy to give to a child because “giving your child a skill is better than giving him one thousand pieces of gold.”
Females like their male counterparts have the right to education and skill acquisition, the right to choice and self-actualisation. But what we see in most societies today is the other way round.
Many girls today do not have adequate education past a certain age. When a girl is 12-14 years old, the elders in the community feel she is “ripe for marriage” and their words are law. So what are her words worth when the elders in the community have spoken? A girl who is given out in marriage at a very tender age is placed at a very high risk. She is not matured enough to be a mother, without any skill, information and confidence that might lead to her being a better mother and wife if she were educated.
The native traditional philosophy is that a woman’s place is in her husband’s kitchen and her primary role centres on her home. This belief has kept many girls away from education. The Child’s Rights Act of 2003 prohibits child marriages and betrothals. In section 21 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, any marriage contracted by anyone less than 18 years old is invalid. This is why there has been a lot of emphasis, particularly in recent times, for all citizens to have access to basic education.
When a girl is given out in marriage at a very tender age, to a man who is old enough to be her grandfather, her right as a human has been abused as most Nigerians would say “she don marry her grandpa”. She has also been deprived of her right to education and will be doomed to be an illiterate forever if her husband does not give her opportunity to school after her wedding.
At the beginning of colonialism, rigid ideas on gender were imposed on the African mind, thereafter, the woman’s role has come to be merely for sexual and commercial labours – satisfying the sexual needs of men, working in the fields, carrying loads, tending to babies and preparing food. How can a girl who is not up to 18 years old be able to execute all these duties and look after her so called “family”? She is not matured enough to give birth and in the process of giving birth could become exposed to certain viral infections and even lose her life.
It has been established by researchers that enabling female education is crucial for national development, and the role of women cannot be underestimated. The general belief is that “when you educate a man, you educate one but when you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” This is so because the education of every child starts from the family and the mother is the first teacher. Educating the girl child produces mothers who are educated and who will in turn educate their children, care for their families and provide their children.
Therefore, educating the girl child translates to better health for the future generation, reduction in child morbidity and mortality thus triggering a snowball effect of achieving all other Sustainable Development Goals in a viable manner.
The girl child needs to be educated to acquire knowledge and skills needed to advance her status for social interactions and self-improvement. The girl child education also prepares her to face the reality in society and teaches her to be a good wife and mother. When she is educated, she realises the full potentials endowed in her; she discovers to be whoever and whatever she wants to be. With education, she would break the shell of ignorance and open that of self-discovery. We have vibrant and outstanding women in Nigeria like Professor Rukaiyyatu Rufai, Mrs Farida Waziri, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Author of Purple Hibiscus, among others who confirm the saying that “What a man can do, a woman can do better.”
The Child’s Rights Act should be strengthened and implemented in all states. This would go a long way in checkmating indiscriminate child abuse. This is because, as girls are not educated, they remain dependent on their parents before marriage, on their husbands after marriage, and on their children if eventually their husbands die. Would you as a concerned, caring and loving father or mother love to see your daughter in this condition? This calls for encouraging the girl child education.
Khadijat Kuburat Lawal, is a Mass Communication student of the University of Maiduguri.