IT is disheartening that Nigeria, worldâ€™s eighth largest oil producer has the highest number of out-of- school children as stated by UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report (EAGMR).
With approximately 10.5m children out of school, Nigeria is ahead of 12 other countries which account for 47 per cent of the global out-of-school population. Out of this number, the out-of-school girls amounts to 5.5m.
Other countries affected include: Pakistan (5.1m), Ethiopia (2.4m), India (2.3m), Philippines (1.5m), Cote Dâ€™Ivoire (1.2m), Burkina Faso (1m), Niger (1m), Kenya (1m), Yemen (0.9m), Mali (0.8m) and South Africa (0.7m). Among these countries, according to UNESCO, Nigeria is among the four that have experienced the highest increase since 1999.
Worried by this development, various bodies, organisations and some concerned governments have been trying to arrest the downward trend through various means.
As increasing hardship and poverty reduce income-earning opportunities, out-of-school adolescent girls lacking parental support, become even more susceptible to the vagaries of unemployment, social isolation and other forms of deprivation.
As options run out, some girls fall back on unsafe sexual liaisons with older men as an alternative survival strategy. These findings have spurred Action Health Incorporated, AHI, to turn the spotlight on the plight of girls in Nigeriaâ€™s poorly resourced communities through the film production effort, to help catalyse a coordinated response to their challenges and needs.
According to AHI which released and premiered screening of three short films- Girls Are Us, Slipping Through the Crack and Make Every Girl Count – that project the true life stories of out-of-school adolescent girls.
The films are based on findings of a study commissioned by AHI to explore and document the realities, needs and concerns of out-of-school adolescent girls in Lagos, as a foundation for intervention planning.
The study location was Iwaya Community and the survey covered 480 out-of-school girls aged 10-19 years. It entailed quantitative and qualitative assessments of their demographic, educational, sexual and reproductive health, livelihood status as well as assets mapping/profiling.
Iwaya is one of the densely populated slums in Lagos metropolitan area with residents from different ethnic groups but predominantly, Yoruba of the Ogu (Egun) sub-group. The housing situation in Iwaya is chaotic including several houses sitting on stilts inside the lagoon, and the entire community lacks decent sanitation facilities and potable water supply.
The dominant occupations of residents are fishing and trading and there are many unemployed and underemployed persons. â€œMajority of the girls interviewed have no formal education. About 95 per cent of all the young adolescents aged 10-14 and 70 per cent among the older adolescents cannot read at all,â€ according to the survey.
For those who had never attended school, the need to contribute to family income and lack of funds for books, uniforms or transportation, as well as the stigma attached to repeating classes, were the reasons given for dropping out of school.
Sexual activity is initiated at younger ages (than the national average), mostly with older sexual partners and the incidence of multiple sexual partnerships is high.
â€œOne tenth of the girls are married, while 19 per cent have been pregnant or have had a child before.
Sixty-two per cent of the girls had no access to basic necessities and many reported that going hungry for much of the day is a common occurrence.
A significant number of the girls are also subjected to unsafe and exploitative work conditions to survive.
â€œWe call on all education, health and youth development stakeholders within the public and private sectors to rise up to the challenge of securing the education, health and development of young people, particularly out-of-schopl girls in underserved and under-resourced communities.
Out-of-school girls need:
â€¢Formal or non-formal education
â€¢Sexual and reproductive health information and services
â€¢ Vocational skills and business-related training
â€¢ Protection from sexual abuse and violence.
AHIâ€™s experience of working in Iwaya, with initial efforts at livelihoods training through apprenticeships, offering sexuality education combined with the evening basic literacy programme, and supporting younger girls to return to school has clearly demonstrated both the scale of demand for such services and the need for an integrated response.
It has highlighted the necessity of engaging and engendering action within the public sector in these communities, at local government and state levels. Only the public sector offers the breadth and reach needed to provide accessible basic education for girls at risk and second chance education for girls already out of school; livelihoods skills training and market access and/or linkages to formal sector businesses to provide girls economic independence; and opportunities to broaden both their world view and life choices.â€