As the world commemorates the International Youth Day 2019 with the theme “Transforming education”, the Mothers and Marginalised Advocacy (MAMA) Centre demands increased priority towards inclusive and equitable access to education by the youth in Nigeria, as enshrined under Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
We are worried that half of youth between the ages of 15 and 17 in sub-Saharan Africa (with Nigeria included) are not in school, totalling more than 93 million children and youth of primary and secondary school ages out of school across the region, as reported by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
We find more worrisome that in at least 15 million children that will never set foot in a classroom, girls face the biggest barriers.
We are not unaware that about 17 million Nigerian children and youths do not have access to education and many more are without access to good education despite the growing importance of quality education to individual personal development and socio-economic prosperity.
While reports have showed that girls are particularly disadvantaged across sub-Saharan Africa with 9 million girls who will never attend school compared to 6 million boys, this disadvantage, according to Global Education Monitoring Report, starts at an early age in the region, where 23% of all girls compared to 19% of all boys are out of primary school.
We are concerned that children with disabilities face multiple forms of discrimination which leads to their exclusion from society and school. Attitudes toward children with disabilities, as well as a lack of resources to accommodate them, compound the challenges they face in accessing education. While lack of access to school is an issue, an equal concern is the inability of the education system to ensure quality education for children with disabilities.
In Nigeria, gender, like geography and poverty, constitutes an important factor in the pattern of educational marginalization with states in the north-east and north-west having female primary net attendance rates of 47.7 percent and 47.3 percent, respectively, meaning that more than half of the girls are not in school, as reported by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
As Nigeria continues to face struggles getting its young females to enter and remain in school, the education deprivation in the country is driven by various factors, including economic barriers and socio-cultural norms and practices that discourage attendance in formal education, especially for girls. This is in addition to insurgency attacks that continue to rob millions of their right to education, especially across the North East region.
The existing child bride practice is another factor exacerbating educational marginalisation in Nigeria. The country has the largest number of child brides in Africa with 23 million girls and women married as children. This fact is buttressed in another report by UNFPA which reveals that nationwide, 20 percent of girls were married by age 15, and 40 percent were married by age 18.
We condemn child marriage as a fundamental violation of human rights as many girls are married without their free and full consent; and persistent deprivation of girl children rights to good education and personal liberty, altering their efforts to secure befitting future which includes improved health, lower fertility, and increased economic productivity.
We therefore, demand accessible and inclusive learning spaces to ensure physical accessibility for children with disabilities, including commuting and moving around in the school environment, as well as adequate preparation and orientation of teachers for inclusion through dedicated teacher training and retraining programmes.
We call for increased priority by government at all levels for the establishment and mainstreaming of conducive learning environment and materials in accessible formats to suit the needs of children with different types of disabilities.
We call for full implementation of various regulations and laws backing child rights including access to quality education, to encourage and re-install personal liberty and dignity of girl child at all levels in Nigeria.
We demand strengthened Nigeria’s criminal justice system to checkmate abuses and violation against girl child right to education and standards of living.
We also call for full implementation of the federal law that establishes 18years as the legal age of marriage for girls by all levels of government.
Barr. Ola E. Onyegbula