ABUJA, Nigeria – Naja’atu Idress is 15 years old. After graduating from primary school at age 10, she hawked for three years to support her parents. At age 13 a suitor was handpicked for her and she would have been a bride but for the intervention of the Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI). AGI is the United Nations Population Fund’s response to expand the possibility of girls staying in school. Today, Naja’atu dreams of becoming a doctor and tomorrow this dream will be a reality. “I used to hawk all day but now I have stopped because of the UNFPA intervention. As a result, my marriage has been delayed to enable me finish my education. UNFPA supplies all my needs as well as pay my school fees. Now I can pursue my ambition to become a doctor.”
Providing women and girls with equal access to education, is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a prosperous and sustainable world. As girls move into adolescence, gender disparities widen. In Nigeria this is seen in the number of out of school girls and the percentage increase of child marriage. The 2015 Nigeria Education Data Survey pegs the number of rural female without any form of schooling in the country at 49 per cent and the net enrollment of females in secondary school at 45.1%. The National Demographic Survey of 2013 highlights that child marriage occurs more frequently among girls who are the least educated, poorest and live in rural areas. It shows that adolescent girls with no education have a median age of 15.5years at marriage, six years younger than their peers with secondary school education.
UNFPA, in partnership with the Government of Canada and the Centre for Girls Education of Population & Reproductive Health Initiative is reducing these risks by increasing the opportunities for adolescent girls to be educated and to support their need to stay in school through the Adolescent Girls Initiative. This #LetGirlsLearn initiative which was recently launched in Kaduna State is UNFPA’s response to the challenges identified with adolescent girls in reaching their full potential.
It is an initiative where girls are enrolled from primary to secondary school and financially supported to stay in school and empowered beyond the classroom. In addition, the girls are enrolled in the UNFPA safe spaces where they are supported with extra numeracy and literacy classes, vocational skills, reproductive and child health information that empower them to better perform in school but also in their adult life.
The Adolescent Girls Initiative was piloted in 2013 and resulted in a delay in child marriage for the girls by 2.5 years. In the pilot, UNFPA working with the Government of Canada, supported 400 girls. Going forward, an additional 9, 250 girls in the two States of Kaduna, and Kebbi are expected to be supported. This is just a part of the 10% target of reaching 114,000 marginalized girls in Kaduna, Kebbi and Sokoto States that UNFPA hopes to reach in the near future.
Deborah Yakubu, another 14 year old girl from Dakace community in Zaria dreamt of becoming a lawyer but at age 10 after graduating from primary school, her dream faded away. For two years she was out of school, assisting her mother a petty trader, who with a daily income of 500 Naira ($1.25) could no longer afford to send her to school. Now with the AGI Intervention, her dream has been re-awakened and she is confident that she can be anything she desires to be. She states, “When I graduated from primary school my parents did not have enough money to put me in secondary school. With the help of UNFPA, they helped to put me in school and are paying my school fees. “
Ms. Ratidzai Ndhlovu, the UNFPA Representative affirms that, “Improving access to quality education for all is critical to all areas of a healthy society, including poverty reduction. When girls are out of school, we disenfranchise them of the skills needed to contribute meaningfully in the labour market. We increase their risks to make wrong choices about their health and limit their potential to be everything they can and ought to be.”
In line with efforts to strengthen political will, the event was attended by the Governor of Kaduna State, His Excellency Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai and his wife Her Excellency Hadiza Isma El-Rufai together with the wives of the Governors of Kebbi, Sokoto and Bauchi signed a commitment statement to support the investment in adolescent girls and social and health development of all girls in Northern Nigeria. Partners from the Global Affairs Canada and the Centre of Child Education where present.