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Burden of the girl child



Burden of the girl child

Undoubtedly, African tradition and culture seems to favour the male child to the detriment of the female child. Hence, in most rural parts of Nigeria, especially, Northern part and perhaps in other countries of the world, the girl-child is made to fight for survival to make it into limelight. It can actually be a cruel world out there for most of them. Oluwatosin Omoniyi writes on collection of experiences



For Loretta Odunayo, who came from a family and a community in Kwara State, the main preoccupation was cattle rearing. According to her, it takes battles and strong conviction for anyone in the community to go to school. Odunayo narrated that after so many battles, the community eventually agreed to allow the boys who wish to go to school but it was a no go area for girls.
It is the dream of every poor girl in my community to acquire western education outside Islamic teaching. Unfortunately, many of us are not that fortunate as the community has placed embargo on us. The common belief then was that the girl-child is meant to stay at home to help with house chores and kitchen errands. It was a terrible day, the day my brother was born as that day marked the end of my dreams. I was no longer allowed to go to school due to increased household responsibilities, my father told me that I must stay home to help with house chores and eventually begin to work.
So while the birth of the first male child in the family brought my parents so much joy, it killed my dream of being catered for academically by my parents. After four attempts at having a male child, my dad finally had his dream fulfilled; but of course, it meant that as a first child I had to quit schooling in order to channel all income to the new face and hope of the family.
At just 14, I was already working as a firewood and water fetcher for a woman who operated a local restaurant. My parents were not only happy because I got the job to keep me busy, they were also joyous to see one of their daughters working to help sustain the family. No one bothered to talk about my schooling anymore; apparently the birth of my brothers shattered my hope of completing my Junior Secondary Education as I was only in my second year in college then. Consequently, I hated my younger brothers for that. After few years, my parents came up with discussions of getting me a suitor. That is how it works in my community. As soon as a girl enters into puberty or finishes primary education (if allowed to go but in this case, my parents didn’t allow me to), men starts coming after her hand in marriage.
At 14, I had started showing traces of a maturing woman; with my breast and other feminine features manifesting, I knew it was only a matter of time before the first man comes to seek my hand in marriage…
At 12, Rahinatu Umoru, a child Hausa bride went to into a long and very painful labour. Without medical attention but with the presence of a quack local birth attendant, she went into labour in a mud-floor village hut. At the end, her baby was stillborn. The mother survived but crippled by a disability of that labour. According to her, the disability occurs when obstructed labour tears a hole between the birth canal and the bladder- known as suffering from vesicovaginal fistula, VVF. In the aftermath of her crippling pregnancy, her husband divorced her. Her family also shunned her, believing that she had a contagious disease. They allowed her to prepare food only for herself.
At age of 9, Hauwah Abubakar was forced by her parents to marry a much older man. She rebelled and ran home to her parents. But last year June, she turned 12 and started menstruating. Under Islamic law, she was mature enough to have sexual relations with her husband. Her father sent her back to live with her husband. She ran home twice. Each time, the father, who is indebted to the husband, returned her.
Finally, by Feburary, she tried to run away a third time. Her husband took an ax and cut off both her legs, the police said. Doctors said they believe that the husband coated the ax blade with poison. However, he was expected to go on trial for murder charges soon. The wounds did not heal. Abubakar refused to eat and by March 4, she died.
In rural areas of northern Nigeria, girls generally marry from 11 to 13 years of age, and in urban areas, from 14 to 15. Among Nigerian Christians, 16 or 17 is a more common marriage age, according to Amina Sambo, a Muslim who is president of the local chapter of the National Council of Women’s Societies of Nigeria. According to medical authorities, women who bear children while still in their early or middle teens are particularly vulnerable to the disability, known by its initials as V.V.F. Since Nigerian Muslim women customarily marry younger than their non-Muslim counterparts, they are disproportionately affected.
According to Mrs. Sambo, an estimated 20,000 women in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria suffer from the problem. “At Murtala Muhammed Hospital here, the largest state hospital in the north, about 2,000 women are on a waiting list for surgery to correct it,” she said.
Hadija Saliu, a gynecologist, after performing a corrective surgery on V.V.F patient, said that many people in the North believed it is equally important to attack the cause – child marriage. ”The problem of V.V.F. goes beyond repair. We have to discourage early marriage. For each V.V.F. we repair, there are 10 being created somewhere – it’s a waste of time.”

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