The Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16 every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the then OAU (Organisation of African Unity) to honor those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976, it also raises awareness on the need for improvement of educational sector to African children are equipped to compete on the global market. This day brings together government agencies, NGOs, civil society organisations and other sectors of the society, and this year actions aimed at seeking solutions to the challenges children face on the continent, including those related to the full realization of the rights of children remains a significant part of marking the day.
YWCA of Nigeria joined African Child Education Rights Initiative and Good living Initiative in commemorating this day with an enlightenment campaign and interactive session with young people from three secondary schools in Lagos with the theme: Early Child Marriage: Is it good for me?
The programme opened with an address by the National President of YWCA of Nigeria, Lady Chikwue Ochiagha who welcomed the young people in attendance and encouraged them on the need to understand that life is in phases, and for every phase must work hard towards making a positive difference wherever they find themselves. She challenged them to be aware of all legal documents put in place to protect their rights, as the society may take advantage of their lack of knowledge.
The session also explored the history of how the day was established and its importance in the lives of African Children. The National General Secretary Joy Yakubu explained the Soweto incidence, South Africa, on June 16, 1976, where about ten thousand black school children marched in a column more than half a mile long, protesting the poor quality of their education and demanding their right to be taught in their own language. An incident which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of young students.
Mr. Yinka Olaito of African Child Education Right Initiative discussed the economic and social implications of early marriage, foremost among which is little or no focus is given to their education, and exposing victims to the physical and psychological violence. He was of the believe that “educate a woman and you educate a family, educate a family and you educate a nation”, and reiterated the fact that pulling future generations out of school perpetuates the cycle of poverty and thereby, negatively affects the overall economic growth of the nation. He advised that religion and culture should not be an excuse for early marriage and advocated that participants should have long term plans.
Mrs. Sussie Metu of Good living initiative spoke about the medical implication of early marriage, she said a child bride is clearly not physically and mentally developed enough to cope with demands of “marriage” with a fully developed adult male. She further explained that at such a tender age, a girl will have painful intercourse, bleeding, lacerations, cuts and bruises, and greater chances of having complications during pregnancy. These painful and strange experiences are scary and bewildering to a young girl and may lead to psychological repercussions that could make her try to avoid sex altogether. Mrs. Metu also enlightened participants of the higher risk of early development of cervical cancer in girls who are married off early, before they are fully developed and also the high risk of contracting Vesico-Vaginal fistula (VVF), which is a condition commonly characterized by uncontrollable leaking of urine through the vagina.
At the end of the programme, Shofolahan Anuoluwapo a student of Canon James Pearse College shared that “I now know that girls should be allowed to grow and develop into fully formed and well-balanced women who can be in a position to make better and informed choices about their lives and also be able to contribute positively to the improvement of society at large”.