SOCIO-ECONOMIC CHALLENGES OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN NIGERIA; WITH A FOCUS ON THE RURAL DWELLERS
Women and children are important segments of the human population and constitute critical links between the present generation and the future. Appropriate investment in women and children‟s health has been shown to be of great benefit at the individual, household, and community levels. Such investment also benefits nations greatly, in terms of poverty reduction, improved national economic performance, and realisation of the fundamental human rights of women and children (UN, 2010). Failure to accord the deserved attention to the health and well being of women and children, on the other hand, carries grave implications. Globally about eight million children die from preventable causes and more than 350,000 women die from preventable complications related to pregnancy and childbirth each year (UN, 2010). As the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated in his foreword to the recently published Global Strategy for Women‟s and Children‟s Health, “These are not mere statistics. They are people with names and faces. Their suffering is unacceptable in the 21st century.
According to data, Nigeria is a `country of the young’ with almost half the entire 180 million-strong population, 46 per cent, currently under the age of 15. (NPC & ICF Macro, 2009). The current total for children under the age of 5 stands at nearly 31 million while each year at least 7 million babies are born. While a little over one in three of Nigeria’s whole population lives below the poverty line, among children this proportion surges to 75 per cent.
When considering the low levels of birth registration, in some areas up to 62 per cent, known data about child health issues are likely to underestimate the true scale. A 2016 national campaign linked to healthcare services resulted in the registration of about seven million children, but large population growth is impacting progress.
Nigeria’s 40 million women of childbearing age (between 15 and 49 years of age) suffer a disproportionally high level of health issues surrounding birth. While the country represents 2.4 per cent of the world’s population, it currently contributes 10 per cent of global deaths for pregnant mothers. The latest figures show a maternal mortality rate of 576 per 100,000 live births, the fourth-highest on Earth. Each year approximately 262,000 babies die at birth, the world’s second-highest national total. Infant mortality currently stands at 69 per 1,000 live births while for under-fives it rises to 128 per 1,000 live births. More than half of the under-five deaths – 64 per cent – result from malaria, pneumonia or diarrhoea. Investment in this sector has been high in recent years although the proportion of patients able to access appropriate treatment remains low. (WHO 2019).
The rate of those mothers feeding newborns exclusively with breastfeeding for the first six months of life remains stuck at around 17 per cent of infants, unchanged over the last decade. Only 18 per cent of children aged 6-23 months are fed the minimum acceptable diet. While the government has sought to improve access to primary health care nationwide, committed to reaching a network of at least one PHC facility in each of the country’s 10,000 administrative wards, the work is still far from complete. Coverage can be patchy, and bottlenecks in healthcare provision are severe.
Poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene remains a major challenge
Poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene remains a major challenge, contributing significantly to high levels of diarrhoea-related deaths. As of 2015, 57 million Nigerians were without access to improved water sources, while 130 million people were without access to improved sanitation. An estimated 25 per cent of Nigerians practice open defecation on a daily basis.
Nigeria accounts for more than one in five out-of-school children anywhere in the world. Although primary education is officially free and compulsory, only 67 per cent of eligible children take up a place in primary school. If a child misses school for even a short time there is only a low chance, only about 25 per cent, that the child will ever return.
Girls suffer more than boys in terms of missing out on education. In the northeast of Nigeria, only 41 per cent of eligible girls receive primary education and 47 per cent in the northwest. Social attitudes can also impact negatively on education rates, especially in northern Nigeria. In north-eastern and north-western states, 29 per cent and 35 per cent of Muslim children, respectively, attend Qur’anic education, which does not include basic education skills such as literacy and numeracy. These children are officially considered out of school by the Government.
While the government has sought to improve access to primary health care nationwide, committed to reaching a network of at least one PHC facility in each of the country’s 10,000 administrative wards, the work is still far from complete. Coverage can be patchy, and bottlenecks in healthcare provision are severe.
Nigerian children are vulnerable to a wide range of abuses and harmful traditional practices. The national legal framework for child protection is the Child Rights Act 2003, but to date, only 23 of 36 states have adopted the Act. (Okeke, T. et al 2012)Implementation is patchy with many local authority bodies unaware of their duties under the law. A national survey in 2014 found that 6 out of 10 children reported having suffered one or more forms of violence before reaching 18 years of age, with 70 per cent of those experiencing multiple incidents of violence. The country has the largest number of child brides in Africa: 23 million girls and women were married as children.
At 27 per cent, the prevalence of female genital mutilation/cutting among girls and women aged 15-49 years is lower than in many countries where the practice is carried out. However, Nigeria still has the third-highest absolute number of women and girls (19.9 million) who have undergone FGM/C worldwide. It is more commonly practised in the south, driven by grandmothers and mothers-in-law aiming to curb promiscuity, prepare girls for marriage and conform to tradition. (UNICEF 2012).
With millions displaced by conflict in some parts of northern Nigeria, already significant challenges in healthcare, access to water, sanitation and education have all been intensified. While accurate, up-to-date data is difficult in a fluid situation where so many millions have left their homes, one clear truth is that children have been affected acutely by the turmoil.
Another critical challenge to look at is the trafficking of women and children.
What is Human Trafficking?
Human Trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit. Men, women and children of all ages and from all backgrounds can become victims of this crime, which occurs in every region of the world. The traffickers often use violence or fraudulent employment agencies and fake promises of education and job opportunities to trick and coerce their victims. (UN 2019).
We agree that women and children are more prone to be victims as they are the easiest target.
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery involving the movement of victims who are subject to violence, deception or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labour. The U.S Department of State (2004) estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, while millions more are trafficked within their own countries. The International Labor Organization, ILO (2000) puts the number of children and women shipped across national boundaries and sold into modern-day slavery at between 700,000 to 1000000. According to the ILO, about 500,000 of these people are brought into the United States of America and Europe for sexual and domestic servitude. Forte (2006) identified three major types of human trafficking. These are migrant smuggling, sex trafficking and labour trafficking. Migrant smuggling, according to him, is a form of trafficking in which smugglers assist migrants with their consent, to cross a national border, while sex trafficking is the trafficking of humans for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Victims of sex trafficking are forced into the commercial sex industry-pornography, prostitution, stripping, live sex shows or illegal massage parlours or escort services (Forte, 2006). Still, on the topic of sex trafficking, the U.S Department of State estimates that about 70 per cent of all victims of international human trafficking are forced into the commercial sex industry, and half of all victims are children. With regard to labour trafficking, Forte said the practice is for the purpose of using humans for forced and indentured servitude such as maids, sweatshop factory hands, migrant agricultural workers or construction site labourers.
Trafficking of persons in Nigeria according to the Geneva-based United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund; UNICEF (1999) is into two types: internal and external trafficking. In internal trafficking, children are procured by middlemen to serve as domestic and agricultural workers. In addition, because of the high level of poverty in the rural areas parents and families give their children to foster parents who engage these children in street hawking and domestic work. External (international) trafficking provides girls and women for prostitution rackets in Europe and the Middle East. For the purpose of this research, our focus is on the external dimension of trafficking in persons. Criminal rings are involved in the smuggling of girls and women across national borders to regional destinations in Europe, particularly Italy where 60 per cent of girl trafficking victims are Nigerians (UNICEF, 2000). The Fund estimated that more than 20,000 Nigerian girls are engaged in commercial sex work in Europe and most of the girls came from either Edo State or other states in the southeast regions of Nigeria. These are bad news for the country generally, and women in particular.
Having all these challenges we are only left with the question, what is the way out?
a)Adequate sensitisation, especially to people in rural settlements about trafficking, maternal mortality etc.
b) Provision of a quality educational system for women and children especially in rural areas, as they are majorly affected.
c) Community members should advocate and lobby the authorities concerned on how to provide more trained health personnel in their respective health facilities, and also seek provisions of basic amenities
d) poverty, grinding unemployment and widening inequalities are the major push factors in the incidence of cases of the trafficking of women in Nigeria. Concerted efforts must be made to address the root causes of the trafficking of women, which among others are poverty and unemployment. Girls and women are more vulnerable to the false promises of traffickers when they are poor and see very few prospects of moving out of their state of deprivation.
e) Since women are more vulnerable to trafficking, a social security policy should be put in place to enhance their access to education by providing them with scholarships. This has the added advantage of making the millennium development goals of ensuring rights for girls and child education acts more reachable. The policy should also aim at efforts to improve the low status of women, particularly at dispelling the economic disadvantage they face.
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Lipede, A. (2007), “Women Trafficking and Insecurity in West Africa: Character, Trend and Scale in Nigeria” in Barkindo, B.M and A. Lipede (ed.) Human Trafficking and Economic Crimes across Nigeria’s International Borders, Ibadan: Spectrum Books Limited. PP.3 – 43.
Okeke, T. Anyaehie, U. Ezenyeaku,C. (2012) An overview of Female Genital Mutilation In Nigeria. Annals of Medical & Health Science Research 2(1).70-73
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