By BILKIS BAKARE
IN recent times, insurgent activities have taken a worrisome turn as more women and girls are now being recruited as suicide bombers. Few days ago at a crowded market in Damaturu, the capital city of Yobe State, North Eastern Nigeria, a 10- year- old girl blew up herself, killing over 15 people and injuring several others. This occurred on the heels of the bombing in Biu, Borno State which was also perpetrated by a woman. Wrought by discrimination and bias, the society, especially in the third world, has dealt the girl-child a rough blow even before birth. India, for instance, y accounts for the termination of about 10 million female foetuses over the past 20 years while female infants are still found dumped in dump sites in large numbers. In Nigeria, the story is not different as women continue to endure all sorts of humiliations for giving birth to girls- the so-called weaker sex. It is the belief that female children drop the family names for their marital names, thereby terminating their ancestral lineage. In her journey through life, the girl- child undergoes a lot of harrowing experiences ranging from sexual harassment to early marriage and low level of schooling. Others include but not limited to exposure to violence, HIV infection, maternal death and vesico-vaginal fistula. It has been over a year now that over 200 girls were abducted from their hostel at the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, an event that has remained indelible in the minds of parents and empathizers alike. The drama that unfolded after the dastardly act made Nigeria a laughing stock among comity of nations. The report of the abduction was initially doubted by the government of the day as one of the much propaganda by the” haters” of the administration in the Northern part of the country. Consequently, the leader of the insurgents through the internet boastfully promised to either sell or marry the girls off. Till date the girls are still in captivity save some of them that were bold enough to flee from their abductors. Although child marriage is against the law in many countries including Nigeria as international treaties forbid the practice, it is estimated that over 51 million girls are forced into early marriages yearly worldwide. Quite often, in most African countries, parents of child brides are driven by factors such as pressure to conform to age-old traditions like preservation of chastity and economic considerations to give out their young daughters in marriage. It is not uncommon also in poor developing countries, for poverty stricken parents to settle debts by offering their underage girls as payments. And as a result of the age gap existing between the child brides and their spouses, they are often exposed to domestic violence and other forms of abuses. Invariably, these early marriages deny girls the opportunity for quality education in addition to depriving them of their childhood. Among the more than 100 million children not in school, approximately 40% are girls. In Nigeria, women and girls constitute 60% of the illiterate population. Also, most young wives are burdened by growing up responsibilities, household chores, rearing of children, and consequently do not get a chance to interact with their peers or carry on friendships outside the household. This put them in a state of complete dependency on their husbands. Equally, child brides often suffer from Vesico- vaginal fistula, a medical condition where there is an opening between the uterus and the bladder because the pelvic bones do not have sufficient time to develop before getting pregnant. This often leads to abandonment or divorce by their husbands and ostracization by their communities as urine continuously leak from their bladders, leading to offensive odour oozing out from the victims’ bodies. Female Genital Mutilation is another heinous infringement on the rights of the female gender. It is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts. The procedure is traditionally carried out by a woman with no medical training. Anaesthetics and antiseptic treatments are not generally used, and the practice is usually carried out using knives, scissors, and scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades. Girls may have to be forcibly restrained by elderly women by sitting on them, occasionally breaking their bones in the process. This unhygienic procedure often leads to the transmission of the dreaded HIV infection.Today, of all girls and women’s fears, that of being raped is the darkest. At least one in three girls and women worldwide has been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. Sexual violence is the abuse of women’s or girls’ bodily integrity and this includes incest, indecent assault of young girls, rape, sexual harassment and child pornography. Incest which had hitherto been an abomination in the olden days Africa is now common as even fathers these days sexually abuse their young daughters. The rape epidemic in our society reflects the extent to which women’s and girls’ (human) rights are being violated. It has gone so bad that minors, as young as 2 years old, are now being raped with resultant effect of preventing the victims from socializing or settling down later in the future. And it is regrettable that most cases of defilement of minors are not being reported by parents and guardians in the name of wanting to protect the integrity and identity of the child-victim. Regrettably, some of these rape cases and incidents of child marriages result in pregnancies. Available statistics show that Nigeria accounts for about 13 percent of the global maternal death rates with an estimated 36,000 women dying in pregnancy or at child birth each year with at least 5500 of these deaths occurring among teenage mothers. Young mothers face higher risks of complications and death during pregnancy than older mothers, especially adolescents aged 15 years or younger. Adolescents have higher risks for postpartum hemorrhage, puerperal complications, operative delivery, episiotomy and preterm delivery, all of which can lead to maternal death. Due to the stigmatization of the rape victims, any resultant pregnancies are mostly terminated, usually through the unorthodox method. Unsafe abortion is another major cause of maternal death. According to the World Health Organization, every eight minutes, a woman dies from complications arising from unsafe abortions. Some of these complications include hemorrhage, infection, sepsis and genital trauma.
Bakare writes from Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.