By Adeola Ogunrinde
This year marks the 24th celebration of the African Child since 1991 when the African Union designated 16 June as the day in which Africa remembers the tragedy of Soweto massacre in honour of the children massacred in Soweto, South Africa in 1976.
Hundreds of children were massacred in Soweto when they staged an uprising against the injustices within the educational system, and the inequality resulting from the apartheid regime. Those brave boys and girls were shot, some fatally, because they stood up for what was true and righteous. They dared to stand up for all that was humane.
Today the fact still remains that what the children in 1976 were massacred for is still very much with us, the African Child is still battling with such challenges, many young Children are still out of school and inequality is still on the rise in some communities in Africa, and female education in some parts of the country is in danger.
Celebrating the African Child this year, United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF disclosed that child marriage is increasing in Nigeria. It quoted the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey, MICS 4 2011, which shows that there is a five per cent increase in the number of girls married before age 15. It was 13 per cent in 2007 and that MICS 2011 indicates it is now 18 per cent.
This is alarming in a time when the 7th senate which just ended its session was said to have passed a bill which allowed a 11 year old girl eligible to be betrothed to, of course the Senate came out denying that such law was passed, but is it not true that a senator, Ahmed Yerima married a minor as a member of the 7th Senate, who won a reelection as member of the Nigeria’s 8th Assembly. Will he ever vote against child marriage in the Senate?
This year’s celebration of the Day of the African Child was themed by UNICEF, “25 Years after the Adoption of the African Children’s Charter: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa,”
This year, UNICEF emphasized that the investments in girls’ education and getting more girls’ into school delays marriage and impacts the incidence of child marriage.
UNICEF representative in Nigeria, Jean Gough noted while celebrating the African Child day that “Girls’ education is vital because educated girls become better mothers, have fewer and healthier children and are more empowered.”She also noted that an educated girl will have a better life, as will her family; “every additional year of schooling delays age at of marriage”
According to her, UNICEF is helping the government address the challenge of ensuring that all children especially girls have access to quality education.
Gough disclosed during the celebration of the African Child day that Girls’ Education Project, funded by the UK’s Department of International Development DFID and implemented by UNICEF, aims to get one million more girls into school by 2020, while at the same time improving the quality of education.
What will the Nigerian Senate of the 8th Assembly do to support the African Child? Will they pass laws that guarantee equal right to a girl and boy child to have the best of education they desire, will the 8th Senate pass laws that will allow a girl child reach the age of 18 before she ever decides to marry and would not be pushed into early marriage? Knowing that Senators like Ahmed Yerima is in the house , I fear whether we will ever reach this goal.