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NGO decries rise of out-of-school children in southeast states, moves to halt trend

By Michael Oche

SafePath Alliance for Women and Girls (SAFEPATH Nigeria) a non-government organisation has expressed concerns that rising political insecurity in the country has resulted in high rate of students (especially the girl-child) dropout from schools in the South East states.

The NGO said this is more worrisome, especially because states in southeastern Nigeria are considered to be educationally advantaged, but are now facing new challenge of increasing out-of-school children.

The group said the situation has been worsened by the effects of 2020 COVID-19 pandemic restrictions which exposed children from poor families to conditions of physical, sexual and psychological exploitation.

To stem this dangerous tide, Mrs. Nkechi Odinukwe, Director of SAFEPATH Nigeria, said her organisation is actively working to build a learning relationship with management of State, Mission and privately owned schools in southeastern Nigeria on school Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV).

According to her, this is a way of ensuring that schools, in their role of guiding the ‘socialization’ of children, do not implicitly legitimize and reinforce harmful gender norms through tacit or explicit approval of conditions that lead to increasingly growing out of school dropout rate for children in states considered to be educationally advantaged.

Responding to questions after an outreach to some secondary schools in Anambra East and Idemili North/South Local Government Area, Mrs Nkechi Odinukwe, shared that Gender based Violence (GBV) and school Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV) are both issues that the organization is deeply passionate about as they want to ensure that all children of school age, especially girls are able to remain in school irrespective of their families social status.

Ms. Odinukwe explained that socio-economic inequality and discrimination is still a major driver for SRGBV as most girls below twenty years suffer a lot of sexual exploitation and coercion to be able to remain in school.

According to her, some end up with early/unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases while left alone to often deal with the stigma associated with such situations.

In her words, “We have been engaging administrators of schools at the top level because we know that without the commitment of school administrators and teachers on this issue, nothing can sustainably change.

“Our hope is to connect with all the unions through which mission, private and state schools operate in the state and eventually use them to move into the entire region and beyond. SAFEPATH advocacy campaigns has helped to make primary and secondary school educators increasingly aware of the negative impact these issues have on girl’s lives and in the wider community.

“SAFEPATH is also holding wholesome sensitization sessions with school pupils in some target communities to educate them on the root causes, impacts and preventive measures for school related gender based violence. The sensitization sessions held with students particularly provided a basis for deep and open conversations on the issue.

“Students are now able to identify the type of violence called SRGBV and where it may occur – They now understand that incidences of SRGBV can occur in the classroom, in teacher residences, toilets, dormitories, and the roads, areas near schools and other places. Some of the types of violence identified by the children include bullying, sexual harassment which they also referred to as ‘teasing’ or insinuation, sexual acts in exchange for good grades or for the paying of school fees, non-consensual touching or sexual assault, sexist and demeaning comments.”

The SAFEPATH director said Anti-SRGBV clubs shall eventually be established to support students confidently speak out against this scourge and also learn about their sexual reproductive health rights.

She said her organization plans to work with school proprietors unions to ensure that appropriate policy framework is eventually created to ensure safe and gender –friendly learning environments, adding that schools in farming and fishing communities will be targeted within this process.

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