The African Union delegation on protecting the rights of the child and ending female genital mutilation has started initiatives in partnership with the Civil Society coalition in Nigeria as well as religious and traditional leaders to end child marriages in Nigeria due to the increasing number of girls and young women, particularly in northern Nigeria, being affected by vesicovaginal fistula and a high rate of maternal and infant mortality.
Hemine Kembo Gatsing, the head of the AU delegation and the representative of the Head AU, stated that meeting with the CSO coalition and other stakeholders, such as traditional and religious leaders, is a part of their three-day mission to Nigeria with the goal of advancing the AU’s campaign to end child marriage and address the harmful effects of female genital mutilation.
She said “our mission started with a discussion with the National Human Rights Commission, (NHRC), now we are meeting with the CSOs, traditional rulers and other stakeholders to understand some of the community-driven innovative approaches they are adopting as well as other models they are testing.”
She stated that community-driven programs might be more successful at reaching the locals and educating them about the harms of these harmful practices through their respected traditional and religious leaders.
She acknowledged the necessity of harmonizing laws in this area for efficient coordination, she said “One of the core interventions of civil societies in this endeavour is according support such as psychosocial support and provision of safe spaces or shelter to victims of some of these harmful practices. Because most often the impact on the child is unimaginable especially when such issues arise in the family context and the child is no longer comfortable interacting with His or her family or is neglected hence needing the intervention of some civil society organizations before mediation is done,” she said.
The Child Rights Act (CRA) is currently being domesticated by all 50 states, but Carolyn Seaman, co-chair of the CSOs Coalition, noted that there is still much to be done to mobilize action around this goal. Instead, she said, the more difficult task at hand right now is understanding the act that is being domesticated and ensuring that it is effectively implemented by the states.
She said, “As civil societies, I think our big concern now is not just getting the states to sign up and domesticate this Act but understanding the substance in these laws that are being domesticated in some of the states especially some of the states in the north that re still significantly and consciously excluding the marriage age of the child, a child should not be married as long as she or he is not up to eighteen years and many of the laws don’t state that.”
Providing safe spaces for victims and offering counseling to both victims and their families are what most CSOs in communities where such cases are common do, according to Kolawole Olatosimi, another co-chair of the coalition. However, she noted that funding is a major challenge for many CSOs, forcing many to look internally for self-sustaining solutions rather than relying on donors to fund their activities.
He said “some of the strategies CSO adopt in the communities is the conditional cash transfer which states that for parents to access the cash, their girl child must attain secondary school or meet some other such conditions. This is apart from our safe spaces programs which often cover pregnant young girls.
Sani Umar Jabbi, a traditional and religious leader, claimed that the majority of the states in northern Nigeria have domesticated the CRA and are already attempting to rid their communities of such harmful customs.
They are encouraging parents to send their daughters to schools where they can be of service to their communities in their chosen professions, such as nursing or medicine, he said, noting that they are working as leaders to educate their communities about the dangers of these practices.