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INVESTIGATION: Young Girls’ Dropout from Schools and Early Child Marriage: The FCT Experience


Sitting on a threadbare couch with sagging cushions, Kadija Dauda’s bright smile belied the deep
sadness in her eyes.
17-year-old Khadija was an SS 2 student at Senior Secondary School Nyanya, FCT when she was
forced to abandon her education for an arranged marriage.
Despite her strong desire to continue her studies, and her dream of joining the military, her father,
a staunch believer that a girl’s education should not extend beyond secondary school. She was
married off at 17.

Khadija Dauda narrates her ordeal
Unlike her cousin, who still attends school under the support of her Christian father, Khadija’s
burden owes all to her father’s rigid belief.
“I really wanted to go to school,” she said, as her voice tinged with a mix of frustration and
resignation. “But my father said no female in his house would go to any higher institution.”
According to Kadijah, her father is a hard-core believer in the idea that female students who attend
higher institutions tend to neglect their studies and chase after men or indulge in social vices such
as prostitution. Despite her mother’s attempts to change his mind, he remains adamant.
Khadija’s marriage, abruptly arranged for her without her consent, points to the systemic issue of
early marriage and lack of educational opportunities for girls in her community.
“I got married on January 19, 2024. My husband is from Kano State. I had never met him; he sent
his aunt to see my mother. His aunt came with another of my relative to see my mother and that
was her the matter was settled.

“My mother said that as long as he is working and can take care of me that’s what my father wants.
When my father returned from work, my mother told him, and he agreed quickly. It was his
younger brother who challenged my father, asking why he wanted to give me out in marriage when
I was so young but my father ignored him,” she recounted.
While her husband has treated her well, it is his family that has caused her distress.
While she hopes her younger siblings will have the opportunity to continue their education, she
called on other young girls to choose education over early marriage if given the choice.
Other factors
In another part of the FCT in Waru village, 17 year old Hadiza Mohammed is facing a different
challenge having finished her junior secondary school in 2023 with the aspiration to further her

education and become a medical doctor one day. But financial constrains have compelled her to
remain at home.
“I have asked my parents for permission to go to school, but they said no because they don’t have
the money to send me,” Hadiza sawys with resignation.
In Hadiza’s family, three siblings have been unable to continue their studies due to lack of funds.
Her younger sister has also finished primary school but cannot go further.
“We stay at home helping with the chores. We really want to go to school so we can have a bright
future,” she says.
“If I get support to go to school, I will need to pay not less than ₦2,000 daily for transportation
and the school fees is ₦60,000. If the support comes, I will be the happiest person to go back to
school,” she says with some hope.

Hadiza Mohammed and Zainab Yakubu sitting side by side caught in the throes of circumstances beyond their doings.
Photo Credit : Janet Samuel


A similar story is narrated by a 17-year-old resident of Wassa, Internally Displaced Persons camp,
Zainab Yakubu, who dreams of continuing her education. “If I were able to continue my schooling,
I would be in SS2 by now,” she said.
Her parents, she says, want her to go to school, but they can’t afford the cost of sending.
“They don’t pressure me to get married, but I know about four of my schoolmates who got
married because their parents couldn’t afford school fees,” Zainab points out.
So far, she has attended five weddings of her age mates and friends.
“Three others relocated to Maiduguri, one went to Yemutu community, while another settled at
Takushara village”, she recalls.
There is no other senior secondary school where Yakubu lives apart from private schools “I was
among the first set of junior secondary classes then and we were about 200 students inside one
class.
“We still do not have any other senior secondary school except for Apo resettlement area. So if we
are here in Wassa it’s hard for us to go to school,” she explains.

PHOTO: Mariam Isa with her friends hawking around 10am in the Central Business District, Abuja


Mariam Isa attends Quranic School at 4pm after hawking in the morning.)
“I don’t have a reason for not going to formal school; I just want to attend Quranic School. They
didn’t stop us at home.”

A resident of Yemutu village, housewife and a mother of 4, Janet Dauda, observes a worrying trend
in her community. “The children I see around my compound, not just the community, are
supposed to be attending primary school, but they are not. For instance, my aunt’s children recently
wrote their Common Entrance exams, but they don’t have the money to proceed to secondary
school,” Janet explains.


Two of her aunt’s children have gotten married because they couldn’t continue their education.
“One of them tried to put herself through school and paid for the Common Entrance exams, but
she couldn’t continue.
“The pressure at home got to her, she got pregnant, and had to get married. Her younger sister also
got married at 19.”
For Janet, “the government needs to assist these children, even if it’s just a certificate to defend
themselves and be wise as they fend for themselves in society.”
Janet believes education is key, as she narrates the ordeal of a 22-year-old girl who lives in her
community and is now struggling to care for her two children alone.
“There’s a girl in my community who is now 22 years old. She got married, started living with a
boy, and has two children. Now, she is no longer in the marriage and is back home but I do not
appreciate the lifestyle I see among our teenagers in the Yemutu community,” she laments.
What the statistics show
Khadija’s story is one of many. A 2020 report by the United Nations Educational Scientific and
Cultural Organization, UNESCO, notes that Nigeria has one of the highest rates of child marriage
in the world. The report says 44% of girls are married off before their 18th birthdays.
In the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, the statistics are equally alarming going by the 2018 Nigeria
Demographic and Health Survey that 1 in 5 girls aged 15-19 are already married or in a union.
A UNSECO report (2014) shows that 70% of young women (age 15-24) in the North West have
not completed primary school.
The gender gap in education in Nigeria is significant with 1.3 million more girls out of school than
the boys, the United Nations Children’s Fund, (UNICEF) says.
Similarly, a report of the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey in 2009 that states the dropout
rate in primary grade 6 is higher for girls (17.9%) compared to boys (15.8%) in Nigeria.

It is not all gloomy as figures on the FCT Education Board’s website indicate a steady increase in
girls’ enrollment in schools across the territory over the past five years.
The number of girls enrolled in primary and secondary schools increased from 37, 431 in the
2018/2019 session to 38,313 in 2019/2020; 41,097 in 2020/2021; 41, 097 in 2021/2022; and 47,
910 in 2022/2023.
This represents a growth rate of 8.04% in 2019, declined to 0.70% in 2020, back up to 7.97% in
2021, but a steep fall to 4.77% in 2022.
Government officials dodge
Despite multiple attempts to obtain information from the Federal Capital Territory Universal Basic
Education Board, FCT UBEB, there was no response.
On June 5, 2024 a formal request was submitted to the office of the Executive Chairman of the
Board, Professor Abdullahi Mohammed, seeking an interview for this report.
Although it was confirmed that the Executive Chairman had seen the request and referred it to the
Special Assistant (SA) for Strategy, Elder George, there has been no follow-up communication
though the SA Strategy informed this reporter that the office was going to fix a date.
Subsequent calls to the SA for Strategy went unanswered nor calls returned. As at the time of filing
for this report, 21 days after, the FCT UBEB has failed to contact or respond.

Copy of letter submitted to Federal Capital Territory,Universal Education Board

Stakeholders’ worry
The FCT Coordinator of Christian Women for Excellence and Empowerment in Nigerian Society
CWEENS, Pastor Deborah Alegbemi, an organization that focuses on women’s empowerment and
aims to eradicate gender-based violence shares a similar concern about the challenges facing girls’
education in the region.
As someone who works closely with vulnerable girls, Pastor Alegbemi, gives clarity into the
obstacles that obstructs their educational pursuit.
“We’ve seen many cases of girls struggling with poverty, lack of parental support, and early
pregnancy. One girl, just 22, is already a mother of three,” Pastor Alegbemi stated.
“The situation is dire in the FCT especially in areas like Old Airport Road and its communities.
Girls are often forced into early marriage and pregnancy. Their parents don’t see the value in
educating them. We’ve had cases where parents use their daughters as collateral to wealthy men,
and the girls are left to suffer.
“Poverty and lack of education are interlinked. Girls from poor families often engage in sexual
activities to get favors, leading to early pregnancy. Once pregnant, they can’t continue their

education. It’s a cycle we need to break. We need to convince community leaders and stakeholders
to support girls’ education. It’s key to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Federal Capital Territory, Coordinator of Christian Women for Excellence and Empowerment in Nigerian Society, Pastor Deborah Alegbemi. Photo credit: Laraba MUREY


“We’ve also seen cases of child labor and rape. Girls are forced to work instead of attending school,
and some are even raped by their employers. It’s heartbreaking.
“We need to provide safe and conducive environment for girls to learn and thrive. Education
should be free and compulsory for both girls and boys. Survivors of child rape and those who can’t
pay school fees should not be left behind. Education is the greatest inheritance we can give to our
children.
“Since 2020, we’ve had about 54 survivors pass through our shelter. Currently, we have four in the
shelter, including two children aged 10 to 12 and adults. It’s a small step towards making a
difference, but we need more support and resources to reach more girls.
“We’re advocating for policies that will protect girls from early marriage, child labor, and rape. We
need to work together to create a brighter future for these girls.”

Similarly, legal counsel at Tabitha Empowerment Centre, TEC, Gladys Emmanuel, echoes Pastor
Alegbemi concerns about the challenges facing girls’ education. With her expertise in advocacy and
empowerment, Gladys explains the legal and social implications of early marriage, a practice that
perpetuates gender inequality and hinders girls’ potential.
“To begin with, it’s very important to give a bit of an insight into what early marriage, or child
marriage is. This is a form of marriage between an adult and someone below the age of 18. By law,
both internationally and domestically, anyone below 18 is considered a child and unable to enter
into a contract, including marriage. Early marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights,” she
said.


Gladys further states that, “Poverty, perception of marriage as a means of protection or preserving
family honor, social norms, customs, religious laws, and inadequate legislative frameworks all
contribute to the persistence of early marriage in our country. While early marriage can occur
among boys, girls are at a higher risk of being married off before turning 18.
“Globally, early marriage is a significant issue, with West and Central Africa having the highest
numbers. According to UNICEF, nearly four in ten young girls are married off before turning 18.
“Early marriage poses severe health risks, including adolescent pregnancy, premature miscarriage,
complications during childbirth, Vesico Vaginal fistula (VVF), sexually transmitted infections,
PTSD, and depression.

“In Nigeria, early marriage often affects a girl’s education and career, as she is seen as becoming an
adult and may face challenges returning to school. However, some CSOs and government agencies
have intervened to enroll girls back in school or provide alternative empowerment programs.
“Early marriage also has legal implications in Nigeria, as the country is a signatory to the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and has the Child Rights Act, which prohibits
marriage below 18. However, the Act has not been domesticated in all states, leading to challenges
in implementation and enforcement.”
Way forward for the young girls in the FCT
When we find stories of girls like that of Kadija Dauda, Hadiza Mohammed and the others, they
but a fraction of challenges young girls in the FCT encounter, and there’s urgent need for
stakeholders to step up interventions.
Stakeholders advocate for the FCT Administration to establish and fully equip schools in
communities without and have continuous engagement with community and religious leaders on
the need to ensure children acquire education.
Implementing the Child Rights Act to stop young girls from very early marriage as well as
guarantee their right to education and learning is important.
Continuing education and learning of parents, guardians and community leaders regarding the value
of girl-child education and made aware of the implications and risks of early marriage.
Partnerships between the government and Non-governmental Organisations can enhance
initiatives and also elevate public consciousness of the social challenge.
But for now, only time will tell as the clock ticks against the girl-child in the FCT albeit Nigeria.


Girls’ Enrollment in FCT Schools (2018-2022)

Source: https://www.fctseb.gov.ng/sch_statistics.php

As shown in the chart, the enrollment of girls in both primary and secondary schools has
consistently increased over the past 5 years.

However, to better understand the context of girls’ dropout and early marriage in the FCT, and to
identify who is accountable, this reporter conducted an online survey and collected about 112
responses from various communities across the territory, including AMAC, Karu, Kubwa,
Lokogoma, Garki, Apo, Bwari, Nnyanya, Wuse, Asokoro, Dakwo, Lugbe, Maraba, DutseSokale,
Galadimawa, Massaca, Nasarawa state border town, Jikwoyi, Jahi, kuje, Mpape, Guzape, Kagini,
Kado, Karusite, Kurudu, among others.
The survey targeted residents of FCT, to have a better understanding issues affecting girls’
education and early marriage in the territory.
The survey reveals an awareness among respondents about girls’ dropout and early marriage in their
communities. Nearly three-quarters (74.5%) are aware of girls dropping out of school, and 61.8%
know of early marriages occurring in their communities.

Awareness of girls’ dropout and early marriage: Pie chart)

Financial constraints (91.9%) and early marriage (51.4%) are identified as the main reasons for girls’
dropout. A significant proportion (66.1%) personally know someone that has dropped out of
school, and 58% know someone who has experienced early marriage.

Reasons for girls’ dropout: Bar chart comparing financial constraints and early marriage)

The survey also highlights that early marriage typically occurs between ages 15-18 (60.9%), driven
by financial constraints (57.3%) and cultural practices (47.2%).
Respondents hold parents and guardians primarily accountable (88.2%) for girls’ dropout, followed
by government responsibility (42.7%). The majority (68.2%) advocate for financial support to
families to reduce dropout rates, and 80% support enforcing existing laws against child marriage.

This investigation is for the GENDER, THE AGENDA project for Gender Strategy
Advancement International (GSAi) supported by the Wole Soyinka Center for Investigative
Journalism (WSCIJ), and the MacArthur Foundation.

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