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Poverty, Culture, Parental Illiteracy and Child Marriage; Main Barriers to Girl Child Education

Abuja, Nigeria. March 14th, 2017 – Latest public opinion poll conducted by NOIPolls has affirmed the importance of girl child education to the society, with 99 percent of respondents acknowleging its importance. However, the poll has highlighted the role of poverty (28 percent), culture (20 percent), parental illiteracy (18 percent) and child marriage (15 percent) as major factors militating against girl child education in the country. Inspite of the general consensus on the importance of girl child education to communities, the girl child still suffers neglect and deprivation of basic education, usually sacrificing her chances to the boy child. This is because when it boils down to choosing who to empower educationally amidst scarce resources, many families often consider sending the boy child to school ahead of the girl child, mainly due to the perception that he would be more resilient and work hard to set his family free from poverty.

More findings from the poll indicated that a significant proportion of Nigerians (63 percent) were of the opinion that boys and girls be given equal access to education at all levels, because they both have equal rights. Although 18 percent still considered educating girls ahead of boys, because they believe girls are homely, and when a girl is educated, it translates to the education of an entire community; however, 19 percent still think boys should have priority over girls in accessing education because they believe boys will grow to become the head of the household. These persistent inequalities in education cripple the lives of several women and girls in terms of deprivation, vulnerability, poverty, and exploitation. Therefore, the society must not falter in educating girls to the same level as boys as an educated female population increases a country’s productivity and fuels economic growth.

Furthermore, in order to foster the girl child participation in education in Nigeria, 30 percent of the respondents suggested mass public sensitization on the dire need to educate the girl child vis-a-vis its importance. Parental literacy was also advised by 25 percent as they believe that if a parent is enlightened, there is an equal chance that the child, either a boy or a girl, would also be educated. Finally, as poverty has been cited as one of the major reason for less participation of the girl child in education, government at all levels should do more to harmonise the policies that would create more job opportunities to eradicate poverty or reduce it to the barest minimum, while also partnering with develpment agencies and the private sector to build more girls’ community schools and provide affordable/free education. These are some of the key findings from the Girl Child Education poll conducted in the week commencing February 27th, 2017.

Brief Background

Education not only trains the mind and forms the character of every individual; it also equips us with skills that are vital to our very existence. Education in itself is capable of setting the mind free from oppression by way of eradicating the darkness of ignorance and giving direction to the human existence and it is a key to success. It is also one of the most important, out of the 17 Sustainable Developmental Goals of the United Nation is education, aimed to be achieved by 2030, and it is premised on ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promotes lifelong learning.[1] There are a lot of human right instruments that provide for education as a fundamental right, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on the of 10th of December, 1948, at the Palais de Chaillot, Paris.[2]

In the actual sense, both genders should have equal rights to education and skills acquisition but the females have been deprived of this right due to growing inequalities. According to a report by the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in sub-Saharan Africa, a girl would have been married off at a tender age before she would be aware of how to take good care of herself and her unborn babies; hence, we have babies dying before they are five because they were born to mothers who were children without basic education.[3] The reason why early marriages thrive could be attributed to the parents’ lack which prompts most poor families to shift the load or responsibilities by marrying off their girl child who, at most times, is barely of marriageable age to enable them take care of the rest of their children. A girl child could be doomed to be an illiterate forever if her husband does not give her opportunity to go to school after the wedding. A girl who is uneducated is placed at higher risk due to her ignorance, lack of skills, information and confidence that could have made her a better person overall, availed to various opportunities as her educated peers.

When a girl child is educated, a potential mother would have been educated, who will also educate her children and thus the society at large. It would turn out to be that there will be a future assured with better heath, less infant diseases and deaths plus all other Sustainable Development Goals could be achieved in a possible manner. But so many factors have been militating against girl child education in our society from the colonial era where it was imposed in the heart of the African man that he is rather superior to the woman. In the light of the above and in commemoration of the International Women’s Day, NOIPolls conducted this survey to ascertain the level of importance attached to the Girl Child Education in Nigeria, its priority and the factors militating against it as well as suggestions on how to promote it.

Survey Findings

The girl child needs to be educated in order to acquire the requisite knowledge and skills needed to advance her status for social interactions and self-improvement. Girl child education enables the girl utilize her full potentials, broadens her mind, prepares her for the challenges of life and teaches her how to conquer them; she is given the confidence to discover who and what she wants to be. With education, she would break the shell of ignorance and open that of self-discovery. In support of these statements, the poll results revealed that almost all adult Nigerians (99 percent) surveyed, irrespective of age, sex and tribe agree that girl child education is important in their community.

In gauging the opinions of Nigerians in terms of boys and girls accessing education, findings from the poll revealed that most Nigerians (63 percent) believed that both boys and girls should be given equal opportunity in accessing education. Residents from the South-East zone (86 percent) and South-South zone (85 percent) formed the largest proportion of Nigerians in this category. On the other hand, residents from the North-East (32 percent) and North-West (42 percent) zones had the lowest representation of respondents that agreed that both genders should have the same privilege in accessing education. This could also be motivated by the memories and horrors of over 234 girls kidnapped from their hostel in Chibok by terrorists in April 2014. According to a study by UNESCO, school children in Nigeria, particularly those in the Northern region, are at a disadvantage in their education, with 37 percent of primary-age girls in the rural North-East not attending school and 30 percent of boys not attending school.[4]

Furthermore, 19 percent of the respondents opined that boys should be prioritized in accessing education. There are more males (25 percent) than females (13 percent) that approved of this with the largest proportion of respondents from the North-West zone (33 percent). Also, 18 percent stated that girls should be given more priority in getting education over boys. Majority of the respondents in this category are residents from the North-East zone with 39 percent representation. During the course of this survey, most respondents disclosed that women are underrepresented in some scientific and technological disciplines especially in the area of Medicine and Surgery. A lot of them mentioned that they would rather a female doctor take child delivery at hospitals, than a male doctor or nurse.

Subsequently, the survey further probed for reasons from each segment of the respondents on their choice of the gender they felt should be given priority in accessing educated. The poll results showed that most of the respondents who believe that girls should be given priority over boys in accessing education did so because they feel that girls are more homely (54 percent). Also, 29 percent believed that when you educate a girl, you would have educated an entire community and this is true because educated women can make informed choices, thereby improving the lives of their families and communities while also promoting the health and welfare of the next generation. Other reasons mentioned include, ‘girls tend to be more focused’ (7 percent), ‘educated girls are respected’ (6 percent) and that ‘boys are not superior’ (4 percent).

On the other hand, the major reason given by 79 percent of those who believe that boys should be given top priority was that boys will grow to be the head of their households someday, hence, claiming that they need all the education they can get to steer the households in the right direction which translates to a better society and Nigeria at large. More reasons given, among others, were that ‘boys are more proactive’ (9 percent) and that ‘educated girls still ends up as housewives’ (7 percent). In the same manner, respondents who disclosed their support for both boys and girls to have an equal share of education cited ‘they both have equal rights’ (47 percent), ‘every child has the right to good education’ (19 percent), ‘both male and female are important in the society’ (17 percent) and that ‘they both have potential’ (16 percent), among others.

Furthermore, the poll sought the opinion of Nigerians on the factors militating against girl child education in Nigeria and 28 percent (which formed majority in this category) mentioned poverty as the cuase, which is also one of the most disturbing economic issues ravaging the entire sub-Saharan Africa. With about 67 percent of Nigerians living in poverty[5], parents will be faced with challenges of making a choice to sacrifice the education of some of their children for the education of the one (usually the boy child) that is perceived to have the capability to liberate the family from poverty.

Another social problem mentioned by 20 percent is the one posed by culture and tradition. Some traditions, especially in this part of the world, are that a woman’s place is in her husband’s kitchen and her primary role centres on her home. These beliefs have kept many girls away from education as such families’ see investment in girl child education as a waste. Even after some girls narrowly get the education, they face social and cultural barriers to obtaining leadership and management functions because they are women.

In addition, parental literacy was cited by 18 percent of the respondents, with most of these responses from the North-West zone (23 percent). This is another social problem that has been limiting the girl child’s access to education because an illiterate parent would place less value on education thus making the girl child bear the burden of deprivation. Another social issue referred to by 15 percent of the respondents is child marriage. The Child’s Rights Act of 2003 prohibits child marriages and betrothals and section 21 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria outlaws any marriage contracted by anyone less than 18 years old considers it invalid. Yet, in some part of the country, whenever a girl attains the ages of 12-14, she has come of a marriageable age. This is one of the reasons why basic education is very essential. Other factors mentioned to have been militating against the Girl Child education are ‘gender discrimination’ (9 percent), ‘religion’ (4 percent), ‘ignorance and illiteracy’ (3 percent) among other mentions.

Lastly, the views of Nigerians were assessed on suggestions to promote girl child education in Nigeria and 30 percent advocated for a general public sensitization on the importance of girl child education. Another proportion (25 percent) recommended that parents should be enlightened more on the importance of education. Owing to poverty been highlighted as one of the most important factors militating against girl child education in Nigeria, 24 percent have called upon the stakeholders to promote free education with a special focus on girls. Also, 5 percent suggested that more girls’ community schools be built and made affordable (4 percent), while 3 percent advised that poverty should be eradicated by creating more job opportunities so that parents can have enough resources to cater for their children’s education among other reasonable suggestions.

In conclusion, the poll has shown that majority of Nigerians (99 percent) believe that girl child education is important to them and their communities. Out of this fraction, 63 percent have advocated for equal proportions of boys and girls to be enrolled in school hence, stakeholders in the education sector must gear up and demand for stronger legislation and policies for protection and inclusion of the girl child in education. Equality exists when women and men have access to quality education, resources and productive work in all domains, and when they are able to share power and knowledge on this basis.

Though 18 percent stated that girls should be given priority in accessing education over boys, 19 percent also felt that boys should have more priority in accessing education as most respondents (79 percent) perceived that boys would grow to be the head of the house. Therefore, the Federal, State and Local governments must do far more for girls’ right to education in the area of legislation. This will go a long way to bolster girls’ capacities and create conditions for the fulfilment of their aspirations.

Finally, 28 percent has named poverty as one of the major reason the girl child is deprived of quality education while 20 percent blamed it on culture and tradition. As a result, the government and other stakeholders must work harder at creating more job opportunities to eliminate poverty and also make investment in girls and women’s education a national priority. This will also assist in eliminating the historical gender gap in formal knowledge and skills acquisition and do a lot more to sensitize the citizens about the importance of girl child education as suggested by 30 percent of the respondents.

Survey Methods

The opinion poll was conducted in the week commencing February 27th, 2017. It involved telephone interviews of a random nationwide sample. 1,000 randomly selected phone-owning Nigerians aged 18 years and above, representing the six geo-political zones in the country, were interviewed. With a sample of this size, we can say with 95% confidence that the results obtained are statistically precise – within a range of plus or minus 3%. NOIPolls Limited is the No1 for country specific polling services in West Africa. We conduct periodic opinion polls and studies on various socio-economic and political issues in Nigeria. More information is available at


This press release has been produced by NOIPolls Limited to provide information on all issues which form the subject matter of the document. Kindly note that while we are willing to share results from our polls with the general public, we only request that NOIPolls be acknowledged as author whenever and wherever our poll results are used, cited or published.

NOIPolls hereby certifies that all the views expressed in this document accurately reflect its views of respondents surveyed for the poll, and background information is based on information from various sources that it believes are reliable; however, no representation is made that it is accurate or complete. Whilst reasonable care has been taken in preparing this document, no responsibility or liability is accepted for errors or fact or for any views expressed herein by NOIPolls for actions taken as a result of information provided in this report. Any ratings, forecasts, estimates, opinions or views herein constitute a judgment as at the date of this document. If the date of this document is not current, the views and content may not reflect NOIPolls’ current findings and/or thinking.

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