The Girl Child: Have we done enough? | International day of the Girl Child
October 11, 2014 marked the 3rd anniversary since the International day of the Girl Child was pronounced. This followed the United Nations General Assembly adoption on 19th December 2011 of Resolution 66/170 to declare 11 October as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.
This year’s theme is "Empowering adolescent girls: Ending the cycle of violence". Many cases of violence targeting young girls continue to be reported around the country. While some people may argue that our society today is plagued with violence and singling out girls is in fact discriminating against boys and furthering the marginalization of the latter, there is no running away from the fact that girls are disproportionately affected by violence, especially of a sexual nature.
Sometime back, national media was awash with news of adolescent pregnancies in the Mt. Elgon area and specifically Chepkukuru Primary School that at one point had 18 pregnant adolescent girls! Although the news was rightfully unsettling, I would not begrudge those who didn’t stop to ask the genesis of this apart from the casual attribution of such cases to poverty and broken social morals among our young people and in some cases their minders including parents and teachers. You will recall that not long ago, Mt. Elgon was engulfed in war pitting the Sabaot Land Defense Forces against residents for perceived land injustices in the area. Of course the Kenya Armed Forces moved in and quelled insurrection.
While economists will calculate the loss visited on the population by such conflicts in monetary terms, we should re-examine what other costs other than economic ones such disruptions of our social and economic activities have on the psyche of the population and especially our young people. Kenya is yet to recover, and I doubt if ever we will soon, from the atrocities visited on women and girls during the post-election violence. Why some people find and use women’s and girls’ bodies as the theatre of war defeats logic and humanity completely.
The International Day of the Girl Child gives people and organizations the opportunity to raise public awareness of the different types of discrimination and abuse that many girls around the world suffer from. On this day, many community and political leaders talk to the public about the importance of girls’ right to equal education and their fundamental freedoms. ACORD, a pan African Organisation has been working with other stakeholders and communities in Mt. Elgon to get to the root of the problem and enjoin all members of the community and the county government of Bungoma in resolving early pregnancies among girl children in the area and in the county as a whole.
As a build-up of activities leading to this year’s celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child, communities around Chepkurukuru Primary School and four other schools have been mobilized to dialogue and agree on what role each member sees themselves doing to help advance girl child education and help stem early pregnancies and gender and sexual based violence. Some people have argued and rightly so, that the fulfilment of girls’ right to education is first and foremost an obligation and moral imperative. There is also overwhelming evidence that girls’ education, especially at the secondary level, is a powerful transformative force for societies and girls themselves: it is the one consistent positive determinant of practically every desired development outcome, from reductions in mortality and fertility, to poverty reduction and equitable growth, to social norm change and democratization.
While there has been significant progress in improving girls’ access to education over the last two decades, many girls, particularly the most marginalized, continue to be deprived of this basic right. Girls in many countries are still unable to attend school and complete their education due to safety-related, financial, institutional and cultural barriers. Even when girls are in school, perceived low returns from poor quality of education, low aspirations, or household chores and other responsibilities keep them from attending school or from achieving adequate learning outcomes. The transformative potential for girls and societies promised through girls’ education is yet to be realized. According to the international Journal of Human and Social Sciences in a study done in Kwale last year, it was realized that girls tend to drop out from primary schools as they advance in age. Their drop-out rate was higher than that of boys and the reason attributed to the disparity was early marriage and adolescent pregnancies
It is therefore incumbent upon stakeholders in the education sector and indeed working with communities to find a solution to girl child pregnancy and early marriage related school drop outs. Even though the education ministry has changed over time and allowed pregnant and nursing adolescent and teenage girls to attend school, the fact remains that such adult responsibilities thrust on young shoulders, themselves in need of care, cannot help them concentrate on school work. In any case girls should take their rightful place in society as children-playing- and not parenting.
Mr Nanjakululu is the ACORD Kenya country director (Jacob.firstname.lastname@example.org)
As Originally published on Standard Media.