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By Innocent Eteng and Favour Ichemati

For some international organizations, the International Day of the Girl Child ought to be celebrated everyday.

October 11 is a global day dedicated to celebrate the the girl child, highlight the challenges she faces in society and drum support for her empowerment and education.

To celebrate her this year, under the theme; “Empower Girls: Before, During and After Conflict”, the youth division of the African Union – African Youth Union Commission (AYUC) – gathered delegates from the United Nations (UN), government, human right groups, security agencies, media organizations, professionals and others to enlightened school girls on how to overcome their everyday gender-based challenges.

“In our own way, we are trying to push out enlightenment to ensure that parents and everyone in society takes care of the girl child,” says Ataisi Ntene, coordinator of AYUC in Rivers State.

Girl child activists and professionals took turns educating participating school girls on how to bury old traditions that say girls are inferior to men.

Even more, Atte Oloruntoba Timothy, who represented the UN at the event, told the school girls to square up as scientific research has shown that the girl child could be smarter than the boy child.

“Psychologically, it’s been proven that females are more intelligent than men because of the makeup of their brain. The man makes use of the right hand side of the brain, while the woman makes use of the left hand side of the brain. The neurons on the left hand side of the brain are higher; they double the ones in the right hand of the brain,” he told the school girls. “The girl child should be looked at as the best future leader.”

Patricia Ngene, a consultant radiologist, highlighted the challenges the girl child faces to include teenage pregnancy, poverty, rape, female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, child abuse amongst others.

She nonetheless told the girls that it was not time to dwell on the negatives, but to spot the solution.

“We want to dwell on the positives and that means solutions and education. The government has to increase the budgeting for education to focus on the girl child. We have to address our social system that has made girls to fall into teenage pregnancy and poverty that contributes to that (pregnancy). There are cultural practices that we need to do away with also.”

But Ngene also feels that the girl child has a role to play, hence they should embrace: “personal leadership; meaning also that you should know who you are and what you want.” You should have a vision and a direction for your life. You have to be focused, you have to be determined, you have to study, you have to eschew bad company. You have to be submissive to authority,” she said.

Hope ahead

Even as delegates agreed that violence against the girl child in Africa is almost always culturally ingrained, there is an expression of hope that as civilization and education spread, such moribund cultures would soon fizzle out completely.

“It is unfortunate that in our day, in the African setting, we have cultures that subject females generally to males. These cultures actually have more advanced effects on the girl child. I just believe that with time, we would get over it because civilization takes more of these cultures off or refines them into better ones. I have that hope that in the future, we would get to have a culture that does not only protect the females, but the girl child,” Timothy, the UN representative, said.

However, celebrating the girl child for just one day in a full year did not seem enough for some youth-wing organizations like the Youth for Human Rights International (YHR).

On October 13, YHR organized a dialogue in port Harcourt where professionals,  delegates from United States Government Exchange Alumni Association of Nigeria (USGEAAN) and other groups educated more teenagers on how to channel complaints when molested, raped, battered or assaulted.

Sarah Orage, Chief Legal Director at the National Human Rights Commission in Rivers State, told the teenagers to be prompt in reporting such matters to the commission and other associated organizations without fears that their names would be published, as no such would happen.

“This is the time for the female folk or the girl child to break the ceiling because we have equal opportunity. When a child reports (a case), we do not go branding the name of the child for people to come and know which child was raped. We take the matter up to the police and then fellow the necessary procedures.”

She blamed situations where raped children refused to open up on their parents.

“They (raped girls) should not be shy if they are violated. Some of their mothers are the ones who tell them, ‘you should not speak up, don’t tell people because if people hear, who will marry you?’ That is not right. A crime has been committed against them, not their mothers. So they should speak up so they can get help. It is a crime and sometimes you don’t even know the (HIV) status of the perpetrator. That’s why they need to speak up,” Orage, who gave the teens a mobile phone number to call in case they experience  gender-based violence, said

In all, “beauty without brains” and boldness to speak up against her numerous challenges in society “is nothing”, Julie Umukoro, USGEAAN’s president in Rivers State, said.

But some teenagers promised to show that they have got brains from all discussions on the girl child. “I will not just do all I have learnt. I think I will share the knowledge with my friends,” said Miracle Okeke, 14.

“I have learnt so many things. I have learnt that we should not feel inferior. We should always speak up. We shouldn’t always be in a shell. I have also learnt that girls have equal rights with the boys,” adds 15-year-old Chinaza Osigwe, another teenager.