A recent report suggests that eight states of Northern Nigeria — Kebbi, Sokoto, Bauchi, Jigawa, Yobe, Zamfara, Katsina, and Gombe — have the worst conditions for girl child education, highest level of female illiteracy, highest number of adolescent girl marriage cases, highest number of under-15 child bearing cases, and highest risk of maternal death and injury.
The report is published by Africa Health, Human and Social Development Information Service, in partnership with African Coalition on Maternal Newborn and Child Health, and PanAfrican Campaign Against Forced Marriage of Under Age Children.
The results underline the links between poor educational attainment for girls, forced marriage of underage children, and underage child bearing.
The states with the highest number of girls not in secondary school are found in the North West, North East and North Central Geo-political zones of Nigeria, the report states. North West states are are Kebbi, Sokoto, Jigawa, Zamfara, and Katsina, North East states are Bauchi, Yobe, Borno, and Gombe. Niger state is the only north central state in the category.
The same 10 states, along with Kano state, have the highest percentage of females aged between 15 and 24 years who cannot read or write.
The states also account for the highest cases of adolescent marriage and adolescent child bearing (15 to 19 years old). While the northern states take the lead, the report says, the problem is widespread, affecting several states in southern Nigeria.
Similarly, for number of adolescent girls in marriage Bayelsa State came 13th, scoring worse than Adamawa, Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states. Also, in the indicator of females aged 20 to 24 years who gave birth before age of 18 years, Bayelsa again placed 13th. In that category, Adamawa, Taraba, and Niger states scored better than Delta, Rivers, and, Anambra states, the report shows.
“The scale of the problem is self-evident, and these are the kind of problems that the Governors Forum should be giving their most urgent attention to – especially from those 8 Northern states where it is obvious that the educational, health and overall human development of girls is key to their development,” said Rotimi Sankore, lead advocate for the report’s publishers.
He said the evidence also underlined that poor educational attainment for girls, underage marriage and underage child bearing was not a northern or religious-based problem – but a national problem.
“The fact that Ebonyi state for instance scores worse than some northern states on the percentage of girls in secondary school; or that Bayelsa where President Goodluck Jonathan was previously Governor scores worse than some northern states on both under age marriage and under age child bearing, is evidence of this,” Mr Sankore said.
“We need evidence-based policymaking in Nigeria.
“The problem goes beyond Senator Ahmed Yerima. People like him only make headlines because we expect that a former state governor and senator should dedicate himself to creating an environment that protects underage girls from abuse and exploitation, rather than facilitating a negative environment.”
Mr Sankore said concerns remain even for relatively best performing states such as Edo and Ekiti states.