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From time immemorial, man has always indulged in activities for different reasons. While some have been for survival, others have been for recreation, leisure, or other reasons. One thing in common remains the fact that some have been harmful.
These days, most are practiced under the guise of religion, exposure, or culture. These practices span from rural to urban areas and cut across every class in society. They have also negatively impacted the fundamental right to education.
But, first, what are harmful practices?
Harmful practice refers to actions that are harmful to anyone’s physical and mental health. These practices are against people’s rights. It is trite law that people have the right to live free from harm, oppression, discrimination, and violence. Especially, free from harmful practices directed towards boys and girls.
Given the fact that we are in a month that celebrates women and girls, this article will be narrowed to harmful practices against this gender which for so long, are considered, or presented by perpetrators, as part of accepted cultural practice.
The most common harmful traditional practices affecting women and girls’ education today include forced or early marriages, tribal marks cutting, child labor, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), virginity tests, witchcraft branding, and the list goes on.
It is no longer secret that across the length and breadth of Nigeria, reports of forced and early marriages are no longer news. This act, despite not being supported by law, is fueled by cultural beliefs with the victims not having the right to an opinion.
This has often led to different challenges from vesicovaginal fistula to mental health challenges among others which lead to a decline in interest in education, especially, formal education. Even when school becomes interesting, there is the fear of stigmatization. And, with weak social support infrastructure, this may lead to the victim abandoning educational pursuit.
While tribal cuttings are worn with pride by males, there have been reports of ethnoreligious stigmatization of females. Culturally, these are given as a means of uniqueness with different significance. However, the process is usually devoid of proper sanitary equipment, which exposes the child or person to different medical issues.
There is the concern of technological stigmatization as well. For instance, there are cases where facial recognition machines likened blacks to apes and rejected the human nature of Africans with tribal marks.
The third concern happens on a more common basis – child labor. Despite the existence of laws across the country prohibiting child labor, there seems to be no end in sight to the street hawking phenomenon, which is the most common form of child labor.
This limits the time children spend at school as often, adults send them to work hard for funds to run their homes. Child labor in all forms violates children’s rights to compulsory, free and basic education as well as health, among others.
Female Genital Mutilation, which is the practice of circumcising women, has created more problems than it was intended to solve. While some cultures saw it as a means to prevent promiscuity, others saw it as one to welcome the girl child into honor among others. This practice has created mental health concerns, reduced sexual performance, infections, postpartum hemorrhage, and sometimes, led to death. The victims face stigmatization and suffer varying degrees of abuse.
The decision to carry out virginity tests on young girls and women for whatever reason is a violation of the rights to privacy and dignity of life. This practice holds more religious connotations and has led to stigmatization. Victims could be virgins in areas where sexual prowess is glorified. Meanwhile, the victims could be those who lost their virginity in circles for different reasons in areas where abstinence is preached. Either way, this is bad and could limit the chances of getting educated. Medical research has shown that the presence or absence of a hymen does not necessarily determine virginity.
On the other hand, the males are checked using methods that show they have thick prepuce and can urinate more than one-meter high without using their hands. Virginity tests help in promoting the shaming culture.
While witchcraft branding practice saw children who suffered from several cases of abuse, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
All harmful traditional practices have denied our classrooms, formal and informal students that would have changed the narrative of our dear State and country.
The list of practices is endless, and their impact on our educational system cannot be overemphasized. A quick look at these challenges mentioned will save us a future of doom.
There is, therefore, an urgent call to stakeholders to put all hands on deck to stop these harmful practices that have impacted negatively on our educational system.
Blessing Isong is an IT student from the University of Calabar with CrossRiverWatch.
NB: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Blessing Isong, and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.
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