End child marriage, harmful practices, AU tells politicians

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Ms Hermaine Kembo, the AU Commission Special Rapporteur on Ending Child Marriage and Other Harmful Practices

The African Union (AU) has urged politicians and other stakeholders to
make personal commitments and conviction to end child marriages.

The union also urged them to commit to ending harmful practices against women and girls on the continent and even beyond.

Ms Hermaine Kembo, the AU Commission Special Rapporteur on Ending Child Marriage and Other Harmful Practices,
made the call during a monitoring and evaluation visit to Federal Ministry of Women Affairs (FMoWA) in Abuja on Thursday.

She also met with representatives of Federal Ministries of Health and that of Education.

Kembo, who decried the long-term effects of early child marriages and other harmful practices on girls, stressed the need
for politicians and traditional leaders to exercise their powers toward ending the practice.

She, however, commended the Federal Government for domesticating policies such as the Child Rights Act (CRA)
and the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, targeted toward addressing such practices and Gender-Based Violence (GBV).

She said “we could note from the launch of the campaign in Nigeria since 2014 till now, the progressive domestication of the Child Rights
Act and the VAPP Act, where we have seen that much progress has been achieved.

“And that it is just remaining few states to domesticate which we urge and plead with them that those process be completed as soon as
possible for the benefit of children of Nigeria.”

She, however, stressed the need for the country to move beyond treating the issue of early child marriage as an advocacy issue to a human right violation.

She added that it was fundamental to ensure swift justice for victims and punishment for offenders.

She explained that “shifting from sensitisation to take the issue as a human right violation which deserves prosecuting the offender. We need to shift from the community acceptance of this oath and normalise the oath for our children.

“Depriving them of the possibilities of building their own self and the possibility of later contributing to the development of the country.

“This is because if we do not have girls that are well-equipped, well-trained competent enough to participate to the development of this country, I think we are losing.”

According to her, the African Union will keep monitoring and give guidance to states on how to fulfill their obligations toward ending child marriage and other harmful practices against the girl-child.

“We came to monitor and to see how far the Nigerian government has gone on this issue and what we are offering to them is our advice on the background of the AU Commission Joint General Comment on child marriage.

“We will also offer general comments on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and overall policy of the AU campaign on ending child marriage, as well as the accountability framework that guides member states.”

In her remark, Mrs Pauline Tallen, Minister, FMoWA, outlined the achievements of the ministry in addressing issues that affect the girl-child in spite of some push back heralded by the COVID-19
pandemic.

She highlighted the creation of a Girl-Child Division in the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, expected to provide a stronger platform to coordinate the implementation of programmes regarding the issues and concerns of girls in all sectors in Nigeria.

She said “there was aggressive sensitisation campaigns to promote girl-child enrollment, retention and completion of basic education; alongside advocacy visits and dialogue with traditional rulers and religious leaders.”

Others, she noted, were the domestication of the VAPP Act in 34 states, the CRA in 32 states, promotion of second chance education programmes for victims and survivors of GBV, launch of National GBV Data Collation Tool, among others.

She, therefore, reiterated the commitment of the Federal Government to work with other countries through implementation of various policies and programmes aimed at enhancing the development and status of girls.

The event also featured presentation of representatives of the ministries of health and education on status of their policies in developing the girl-child, ending child marriage and other harmful practices.

On his part, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said that in spite of implementation of policies and advocacies, FGM is still widespread and practiced in some parts of the country.

Ehanire, who was represented by Mrs Tinuola Taylor, the Director, Reproductive Health, Family Health Department in the ministry, said FGM must neither be institutionalised nor performed
by health professionals in any setting, including hospitals or in the home setting, as obstetric fistula remained one of the scars from the practice.

Similarly, Mrs Akor Adijefu-Ademu, representative of Federal Ministry of Education, said there was need for improved access, enrollment and completion of education by girls as means to end FGM and other harmful practice against her.

Adijefu-Ademu added that most of the policies and interventions to end such practices were donor-funded, calling for more strategies to ensure sustainability to achieve the desired results.