Rhoda Samuel (not real names) stares at you, eyes oscillating between vacant and shifty. You sense she is tense. You sense she is scared. When she speaks, you can almost hear the hopelessness drip from her voice. Her pain reaches out, almost threatening to engulf with its profundity. Rhoda is orphaned, pregnant and HIV positive. She is 21 years old. Losing both parents in quick succession and left to the care of uncles and aunties who really cared less what happened to the young woman thrust into their care by the hands of fate, her future was up in the air. With two older sisters, one serving as a domestic maid somewhere far-flung, and the other, hurriedly married off to a far older man as an escape from the biting poverty, Rhoda was left largely to her own devices. Barely having enough to get by, she had been forced to do with whatever jobs she could find to survive, last of which was serving as a waitress in a motel. Suffice it to say, the circumstantial combination of a vulnerable girl in a motel under the lecherous attentions of inebriated men was never going to go in her favour. Today, pregnant, HIV positive and with very little education, her chances of a relatively decent future appear to have been brought to an abrupt halt. Bridget Jang is 15-years old, not an orphan, but a domestic maid. She says she was a Basic Five student in Jos before her uncle brought her to work as a maid for a madam in Lagos, with her parents fully complicit in the whole arrangement. In her words, “It was my uncle, David, who asked me to come to Lagos. I cannot remember the date. He said I should come to Lagos to stay with a madam. He put me in a bus. He gave the driver the madam’s phone number. When we arrived, he called her and she came to pick me. I was staying in her house. I washed clothes, plates and cleaned the house. She has two children. I was not collecting any money. She used to beat me. That was why I ran away. She told me the work I was doing for her was rubbish. She wanted to beat me again; I then ran away. I don’t know anywhere; I was walking up and down the area. It was someone who took me to the police. In Jos, my father and mother knew I was coming to Lagos. I have one elder brother and one sister. My father sells clothes, while my mother is a fashion designer. I want to return to Jos. I want to go back to my parents. I want to continue my schooling.” Reports suggest her parents are avoiding contact with the police for fear of arrest; meanwhile, Bridget, has been left to the care of social services pending when conditions improve and she can go back home, hopefully. Perhaps, one could say her case is luckier as providence has ensured a somewhat redeemable future for her. Both cases, as in many others, underscore the societal challenges faced by the girl child in her quest for a better life. In Nigeria, care for the girl child has mostly always been a back burner affair, with preference given to the boy child who ironically, has been better positioned by creation and societal standards to survive easier without that extra attention. Girls, though decidedly weaker and more susceptible to the vagaries of society, are often discriminated against in access to educational opportunity, good food and nutrition. In a male dominated world, the girl child is disadvantaged even before she drops from her mother’s womb. They carry the heavy burden of farm and domestic chores, are victims of sexual molestation, married off at early ages, expected to accept objectification, and in cases of family misfortune and conflict, are the worst affected victims. Unfortunately, as tender and needing attention as they are, there isn’t nearly enough done to protect them. Statistics say, at least, four out of every five females have been sexually molested, successfully or unsuccessfully before the age of 15, either by family members or strangers. Discriminatory laws which put the girl child at risk abound all over Africa with no safety net to guarantee them a safer future. However, must it continue to be so? Must society keep quiet in the face of this gender injustice that makes the female child no more than an object of society’s whim? Where are those to stand in the gap? As we continue this series, we shall be discussing the various needs of the girl child and what society must do to upturn the worrisome trend of deliberate neglect and unconcern. I shall be sharing insights on how we may give her a better deal, making her a happier and better protected member of society, while hoping it pricks our consciences from mouthing less rhetoric into taking decisive actions in looking out for the protection and well-being of the young females around us. Until then, go out of your way to show that unhappy girl-child some much needed love today!
By Olayinka Odumosu & Jide Odi