ABUJA, 27 May 2005. Today millions of children across the nation are celebrating Nigeria’s Children’s Day on the theme: “Educate the girl child, educate the nation”. UNICEF welcomes the choice of this theme and joins all Nigerian children in calling on policy makers, local authorities, religious and traditional leaders, school authorities, the media and all Nigerian parents to accelerate progress on educating girls.
“Providing quality education for all children is a must”, said Barbara Reynolds, UNICEF Deputy Representative. “However, because girls are participating in much fewer numbers and for shorter periods, particular attention to girls is essential, not only for the development of the country, but to fulfill the right of every child to education.” “We need to ensure that as many girls as boys attend school throughout the country, if we are to achieve universal primary education,” she added.
A recent UNICEF publication, “Progress for Children”, reporting on progress made on primary education, shows that the current rate of progress in Nigeria is too slow to achieve gender parity by end 2005 and universal primary education by 2015, the target dates for Nigeria’s achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals. In Nigeria, about 7.3 million children do not go to school, of whom 62% are girls.
Last January, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child*, in its observations of the second report submitted by Nigeria, expressed concerns that universal education has not been realized in Nigeria, partially because it is neither free, nor compulsory, despite the Constitutional guarantee. They also underlined the high illiteracy among girls and women and the gender and regional disparities in school enrolment. Recommendation was made to prioritize equal accessibility to educational opportunities for girls and boys from urban and rural areas.
Nigerian girls are still disadvantaged in their access to education. As a result, all do not register for school and those who register do not attend regularly, and eventually drop out or learn very little. The gender gap favoring boys has remained consistently wide in Nigeria over the last ten years. In the Northern part of the country, the number of children out of school is particularly high and the proportion of girls to boys in school ranges from 1 girl to 2 boys and even 1 to 3 in some States.
To address this issue, UNICEF supported the “25 by 2005” global initiative for the acceleration of girls’ education in order to achieve gender parity in 25 countries by 2005. Nigeria is one of the 25 countries selected for this fast track action. In 2003, the Ministry of Education adopted the Strategy for Accelerating Girls Education in Nigeria. In 2004, the Ministry also launched the Girls’ Education Project, supported by UNICEF and DFID, in order to focus interventions on States with lowest enrolment rate for girls.
The collaborative efforts made by government, civil society and development partners have yielded results especially in the southern part of the country as well as in pilot projects in northern States. It has demonstrated also that boys benefit from programs that are developed to improve education for girls, as boys face many of the same problems.
The Universal Basic Education (UBE) Commission has been implementing projects that provide more schools, better qualified teachers and gender sensitive textbooks and curriculum. However, to create the policy environment at the State levels were the bulk of these interventions are most required, the UBE Act needs to be urgently domesticated by all States and translated in very concrete programmes.
Educating girls is a national priority. Each year a girl is in school is a progressive step toward eliminating poverty, advancing sustainable human development and controlling preventable illnesses. Providing education, especially to girls, is also an adequate strategy for stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS. All children must have the chance to attend school. As Nigeria celebrates children, let’s listen to their voice asking for an equitable access to education.
For more information, please contact:
Christine Jaulmes, Chief, Communication and External Relations,
Tel: 0803 40 70 879
Geoffrey Njoku, communication officer, UNICEF,
Tel: 0803 52 50 288.