Peter Hawkins, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Country Representative to Nigeria, says Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is detrimental to the development of the girl-child.
He said this during News Agency of Nigeria’s (NAN) magazine programme, NAN Forum, on Sunday in Abuja.
The UNICEF country representative identified Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as one of the most profound abuse of rights as a form of GBV.
FGM is a procedure performed on a woman or girl to alter or injure her genitalia for non-medical reasons.
It involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organ.
Hawkins, however, acknowledged that incidences of FGM had dropped in the country, attributing the decrease to efforts toward tackling it from geographical perspective.
The Multi Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS 6) 2021 inaugurated in August revealed that 15 per cent of women aged 15-49 years in Nigeria had undergone FGM, down from 18 per cent in 2016.
The Survey also found that eight per cent of Nigerian girls aged 0-14 years underwent FGM in 2021, down from 25 per cent in 2016.
MICS is a household survey developed by UNICEF to assist countries in filling data gaps for monitoring human development indicators in general and the situation of children and women in particular.
It has evolved over the years to respond to changing data needs, expanding from 28 indicators in the first round in 1999 to 200 in its current sixth.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) implemented MICS, which provides data on child mortality, health, nutrition, education, child and social protection, women’s health care and empowerment, water, sanitation and hygiene.
The UNICEF country representative said “the engagement of governors on this very serious issue has been very good and they have taken it forward, but as long as one child is abused in this sense, it is one child too many.
“One of the good indicators is the domestication of the Child Rights Act that was passed at the national level in 2003.
“So, that is starting to have a profound effect on how state governments are responding to situations like FGM because it is enshrined in the law and it is illegal.
“But the major challenge is around social and behavioural change and shifting social norms from what they have been to what we require them to be under a rights-based framework and those social norms will take a while.
“It is still unacceptable, but we need to move slowly.”
Hawkins, however, expressed optimism that with social and behavioural change, the improvement would be sustained.
On the issue of sexual harassment against the girl-child, he said getting communities to report incidences to relevant authorities had been the most difficult part.
He said it was not about the communities and institutions of learning alone but also about the homes too.
He added that “it is all within the immediate environments of the homes in communities, and it is about reporting it.
“It is when we stop it there that we are in a much better position to stop it in schools and institutions of learning.
“There has to be a social change around respect to young girls and protection of young girls.”
Hawkins said that for teenagers to be pregnant is a violation in itself, adding that “the pregnant girl cannot go back to school, so there’s a triple whammy and her aspirations are immediately curtailed.”
He advocated for the Child Protection Information Management System which ensures that the judiciary, the police and social services departments specifically focus on the protection of the rights and wellbeing of children.
According to him, there is nothing more important than the protection of a child because the child will become an adult, and if abused, he or she may perpetrate same on others.