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Improving The Rights Of The Girl Child Should A Priority For All Says Ban Ki-moon The UN Secretary General

“We are committed to ensuring that every adolescent girl, regardless of her age, culture or background has access to equitable and quality education and importantly expresses her right to live and not be a child bride (decide when she wants to get married),” said the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Ban ki-Moon, when he met with beneficiaries of the UNFPA programme “Adolescent Girls Initiative Programme in Northern Nigeria”.

The Country Office presented the “Adolescent Girls initiative in Northern Nigeria”. Fifteen (15) girls from the safe space in Zaria, Kaduna State (North West Nigeria) dramatized the impact of gender inequality in impeding the rights of girls, including the right to education, and the Fund’s interventions to alleviate this. Issues on child, early and forced marriage, lack of access to education and impediments to the rights of girls were highlighted. The UNSG’s interaction with the girls was significant because in the North, where early marriage is most prevalent, the median age at first marriage among women aged 20-49 is between 14.5 – 18 years The consequence of this is reflected in the region’s high maternal mortality rate - the highest in the country - and its substantial contribution to the growing cases of obstetric fistula in Nigeria.

Mr. Ban Ki-moon, who was accompanied by the UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehim, was visibly impacted by the dramatization of “Zainab’s story” – a retelling of the reality of too many girls in the North who do not attend or complete school, who are married too young and become mothers before they are able to reach their full potential. The SG, in his direct response to the girls, reiterated the UN’s commitment to adolescents’ health as framed in the updated Global Strategy “Every Women, Every Child” and to gender equality in the establishment of UN Women. “The United Nations is committed to ensuring that every girl, regardless of her age, culture or background has access to equitable and quality education and importantly expresses her right to be a girl and not a child bride. We are working closely with the Government and relevant parties to ensure that these rights are upheld”, he said.

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, through its “Adolescent Girl Initiative” programme is addressing the different challenges faced by the girl child in Nigeria, by creating a safe space for the girl child to learn in and beyond the classroom. Today and every day, said Dr. Osotimehin, UNFPA is taking action to protect the health and rights of adolescent girls; through comprehensive sexuality education; through reproductive health counselling and through youth participatory platforms. We will not stop until the potential of every young girl is fulfilled and she is treated with equity and fairness