The Girl Child And National Development

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If we can for a second forget about the man Yerima and religion, can we consider the issues of the Girl Child as it is relevant to National Development?

DEMOGRAPHICS (OF GROWING POPULATIONS LIKE NIGERIA)

First of all let us consider some generic demographics of any growing population like Nigeria and overwhelming majority of the developing world…

Females and males each always roughly constitute 50% of the population making it impossible for one sex to be significantly more important than the other in terms of impact on national socio-economic development

The population of ages 0 to 18 years are always the higher than any other 18 year bracket (e.g. 19 to 36, 37 to 54, 55 to 73 etc) in any growing population. This group are obviously going to live and be around longer than any other age group and their issues in terms of health and education are extremely important for developmental future of any country. Even if the next two age brackets above them who constitute the current wealth creators of the country are doing very well there is always a danger that this group (0-18) could end up squandering the fruits of their labour if their health and education issues are not properly dealt with. Meanwhile this portion of the population cannot vote, be voted for or directly contribute to national issues on account of their age and pre-maturity. It is therefore very easy for their issues to lost in the national dialogue, particularly in African societies where children are meant to be seen and not heard.

Meanwhile this 0-18 age bracket usually constitutes at least about one quarter of the entire population in growing populations. In fact half of the world’s population are under 25 years old (UNFPA) and Nigerian Population Commission (NPC) put the percentage of age 10-25 at one-third in 2006. Thus by extrapolation it is possible ages 0-18 may be as high as one-third being a lower bracket spanning more years (i.e. 0-18 is 18 year gap while 10-25 is a 15 year gap). It can therefore be estimated that 0-18 at one-third of 162 Million (2012 figures) will amount to about 55 million people.

We can therefore further extrapolate that we have about 27.5 Million girls who are between ages 0-18. These are future mothers and if we consider that women live longer than men they are likely to be around much longer than the rest of the population. As future mothers they are also the principal vehicle of transmitting our collective essence, culture and values to future generation.

ISSUES OF AGES 0-18

Education and health has been mentioned and this crystalises into Premarital Sex, Early marriages and pregnancy, HIV-AIDS, STDs, Abortion, Malnutrition and Stuntism (inability to achieve full biological growth; Nigeria has one of the highest in the world; 41% of children under the age of 5 have stunted growth according to the Federal Ministry of Health)

DISTINGUISHING FEATURE OF AGES 0-18

This age group constitute human being who are still growing and are therefore physically immature. Most humans normally stop growing between ages of 17 to 21. This means their bone formation and elongation are still in progress and relatively feeble. The pelvis of females in this age bracket does not really set or mature until about age 15 give or take a few years.

The Female Pelvis: The Pelvis is actually a fusion of three distinct bones Illium, Ischium and Pubis to form an irregular propeller shaped bone. Normally as determined by genes the process will start sometime between the age of 9 and 14 and it takes 18 months to two years to complete. It would take a further 2 years for the bone to become robust enough to be certain of its ability to handle child bearing which at best is a very difficult and painful experience. Good nutrition would promote early growth maturity, while malnutrition would delay maturity. Thus children of the poor are at a disadvantage due to poor diet and nutrition.

EARLY MARRIAGE AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

A populations ability to maintain economic balance is dependent on its work force and its ability to generate sufficient wealth for the dependent segments of the population. In today’s world there is economic interaction and competition among countries. A larger and more educated and skilled population will compete favourably in its productivity relative to other countries. It is therefore not useful for any segment of that work force, like for example women to be economically disenfranchised. Therefore neglecting education of the girl child is a dangerous trend. Education of children for economically productive adulthood is highly unlikely to be significantly complete before the age of 16. Even if the child is to learn just simple skills such as tailoring or subsistence farming it would take at least 16 years of life to sufficiently imbibe enough learning experience. It therefore not out of place to opine that a child marriage and child bearing, predating age 16 is a major challenge to economic education of the child. Thus there is a real deprivation of the economy of a potential productive unit/person in addition to condemning that person to a life long dependency and poverty. 

In addition to all the economic issues is the real and present damage that can be done to the immature pelvis leading to injured, malformed pelvis or even out right Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) and Recto Vaginal Fistula (RVF) or both!

The economic and health challenges of early marriage are thus real and thus should be of real concern. It is therefore not out of place from the forgoing that marriages under the age of 16 years should be outlawed to allow our girl-children to fully develop both biologically and as potential economic resource to our nation.

Finally, I am not even ordinarily setting 16 years as an upper threshold for education for the Nigeria child, I am in fact saying it should be the minimum having due consideration to the fact that up to a stage early marriage is not without its merits. When children reach full physical sexual maturity at about 18 there is little you can do to stop them from marriage or sexual relations. In fact the dating phenomenon is a kind of mock marriage. This is why some argue that the way to reduce premarital sexual liaison is to allow relatively earlier marriages at about 16-18. However, the counter argument to that is that marriage requires not only sexual/birthing maturity but also psychological and emotional maturity. On that side of the argument they support their point with statistics that show that teen marriages show a higher incidence of failure compared to later marriages.

It does appear logical that a person who has not even become aware of him/herself as person might not be able to cope with adding the responsibility of understanding another. On the side of emotional maturity is an often missed by us men is the fact that the very hormones that guide the female body to biological sexual maturity has a highly destabilising psychological influence. Imagine waking up one morning and you are bleeding without being injured! Only a woman can give us the nature of that experience.

Ayoola Oke is a sociologist and lawyer. He is the managing partner of Ayoola Oke & Co. Barristers & Solicitors.

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