The celebration of the International Day of the Girl child, or International Girls day started in 2012. A UN General Assembly resolution 66/170 passed in December 19 2011 declared October 11, as the day to celebrate the girl child.
The inaugural theme focused on ending child marriage. The day was used to whip up the participation of girls in decision that affect them, stand up against discrimination and violence affecting the girl child, so they are liberated and grow up naturally as free women. Each year, the celebration is made under a theme that highlights critical issues that affect the wellbeing of the girl child.
Ten years down the line, is there any significant improvement in the plight of the girl child? In Ghana, Child marriage is generally frowned on by many individuals and groups. Ghana has made a stride in this direction as the minimum age for marriage remains 18 years, in line with the UN requirement. Generally the trend of child marriage has reduced in Ghana not much as due to the enforcement of the law as powerful advocacy against the practice, making it unattractive.
Despite the seeming successes a good number of child marriages that cannot be described as isolated cases go on, endorsed by relatives and therefore not reported. The personal life goals of these girls are truncated because a more powerful personality wanted to have a girl as a wife instead of a woman. With family endorsement and impotent laws, all that the girl can do is assume the role of a sheep being marched to the slaughter house. She cries in her heart for shattered dreams but remains powerless to liberate herself. In the process people send across to the girls the most painful comment: ”smile a little, and don’t disgrace your parents”. This still goes on in modern Ghana, at the blind side of the law.
Sexual violence is unprecedented. Step fathers abusing step daughters is rampant. A number of girls go through this ordeal, not always at the blind side of their mothers. Some of the mothers may be fully aware but they are voiceless because of poverty. If they take action, they lose their daily bread because the criminal is the breadwinner of the house. Such mothers are even able to persuade their girls not to cooperate with government official, especially Girl Child Education Coordinators and Facilitators, who would want the criminal to face the full rigors of the law.
Influential individuals within the community try to insulate the criminals from facing the law by bringing pressure to bear on the child and the mother to either withdraw the case or renounce their cooperation in the case, and in some instances inciting thugs to verbally or physically abuse the Girl Child Officers. In addition, biological fathers having incestuous relation with their daughters is common place. Despite how repugnant, we view it, perpetrators keep it going, and it is becoming an endemic concern for schools and the Ghanaian society in general.
Some of the girls, having graduated in prostitution from the training in the hands of adult predators, assume the role of trainers of prostitutes, and train and introduce their peers into the job. Some as young as 14 and 15 years of age actually introduce their peers into prostitution. Abuse by pedophiles, gang rapes by young men are expectations that put fear in the way of the girl child.
A number of basic schools are pregnant with pregnant girls and lactating girl-mothers. For example Ga West District alone has recorded, at the time of writing, 12 pregnant girls and 13 lactating girls, making a total of 25.
Truly the girl child is vulnerable much so as unscrupulous men and women see them no more than objects of abuse.
Pragmatic measures are required to make the law work. Chiefs, Assembly members and unit committee members should be sensitized and specially trained and empowered to report such cases and use the traditional security apparatus to arrest perpetrators of girl child abuse in any form. The law should be strict with opinion leaders who condone such acts and shield the abusers.
When it comes to education in Ghana, the system gives appreciably equal opportunities to girls and boys. Enrolment data in the basic schools, with gender parity index 1.0124% (World Bank, 2022) supports this conclusion. In this, the country has not done badly. Moreover the Ghana Education Service (GES) has systems in place to promote the interest of the girl child, especially their full participation in education. The GES has instituted a girl child unit in each district education directorate with a Girl Child Education Coordinator whose duty is to ensure the effective participation of the girl child in education in each district. Apart from this, each basic school has a Girl Child Facilitator who takes keen interest in the development of the girls in each basic school. These are commendable initiatives that must be nurtured and sustained since when implemented from heart and soul becomes a beacon of hope for the helpless and frustrated girl. It is incumbent on all motivated organizations to invest in this noble course to support the girl child.
DOVVSU have passion for the development of the girl child and act promptly and decisively on crimes affecting them. There are various NGOs, as well as UN Agencies who carry out programmes to help alleviate the plight of girls and development of their potentials. The efforts of these institutions in uplifting our cherished girls are commendable and must be applauded.
The theme for this year’s celebration is “Our Time is now-Our Right, Our Future”. This theme could not have come up at a better time. This is the time when COVID-19 has devastated the livelihoods of families visiting vicious poverty in homes. Many a girl child coming from poverty-laden homes have assumed vulnerabilities making them easy targets of sexual predators. Some families have been compelled to sacrifice the education of their girl child and sent them away to stay with other people to labour in order to reduce economic burden. Only heavens know what such vulnerable girls go through.
This is also the time when easy access to the social media is exposing the girl child more and more to adverse consequences. Unbridled curiosity and wantonness in the exploration of unhealthy sites, due to inexperience, are having a telling effect on the girl child. Some sites which are meant to lure innocent girls and exploit them are chalking rapid success as some parents who are novices to the operations of the internet sit down unconcerned as their precious girls are ambushed, abused and carried away morally. I think this is the time to revisit the definition of cybercrime to include anything thrown onto the internet space calculated to abuse children, especially the girl child.
This is the time for the government, parents and society in general to sit up and redefine a brighter future for the girl child. Let us take stock of the double jeopardy confronting the girl child alongside our national efforts to offer solutions, and see if indeed we are fully committed to making the world a safer place for them. Can we relook at the trajectory we are charting as to whether it is leading us to the destination? Can the responsibilities of caregivers of the girl child be reinforced to deal with the cases of abandonment and neglect? The right of the girl child to live a meaningful life, have access to seamless education, thrive within communities devoid of social predators, enjoy easy access to reproductive health support and enjoy the dignity befitting all humans should be the concern of all.
The discussion about the wellbeing of the girl child should be now, and done with them. The decisions to address the many challenges confronting the girl child should be taken now. The girl child should have their representation at various levels of governance to articulate their needs and concerns at decision making forums. The glorious future we seek for the girl child should be between now and tomorrow.
As we commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child, we pay homage to all Girl Child Education Coordinators, Girl Child Facilitators, DOVVSU, Gender Activists and all who show love to our lovely girls and invest in them.
To our much cherished girls, we salute your gallantry and resilience, and we say stay blessed, we love you, and love you dearly.
Source: Salome Yeboah Awuah
Writer, Salome Yeboah Awuah, is a Girl Child Education Coordinator, Ga West GES Directorate.