The wife of Kebbi State Governor and Founder, Medicaid Cancer Foundation, Dr. Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu, has called for proper engagement of traditional and religious rulers in the fight against child marriage in the country.
According to the Kebbi State First Lady, traditional rulers and religious leaders are closer to the people at the grassroots and their views on issues are well respected, noting that using them as change agents would tremendously help the fight against underage motherhood.
Speaking on Friday at the maiden edition of the PUNCH Digital Town Hall themed ‘Strengthening the Nigerian maternal and child health through clinical and community-based interventions,’ Dr. Bagudu said the views of traditional and religious leaders are crucial in the fight against underage marriage at the grassroots where there is a high level of illiteracy.
“By liaising, working and collaborating with our traditional and religious leaders, we can make progress. At the grassroots, these are the people that have the greatest impacts with their views, whether we like it or not.
“Majority of the people at the grassroots are not educated. They do not have access to TV, webinars or internet.
“So, if I speak to and engage the traditional and religious leaders, which we do quite often and I get their buy-in, then it would be a great help,” she said.
Bagudu, a paediatrician, added that if a traditional or religious leader speaks in support of child marriage, the society is in trouble.
She, however, noted that, “If we get them to change their mindset — as many of them don’t believe in or like child marriage — and they are speaking against it, it would help us to reduce it. That is one of the steps we are taking in Kebbi State.”
The Kebbi First Lady stressed that child marriage is something that happens all over the country and causes serious health issues.
“It leads to maternal death, obstetric fistula and other issues.
“In Kebbi State, I work with various bodies to encourage behavioural and attitude change.
“The various organisations help us to gather women who are educated and can be advocates on issues.
“We work with them to improve school attendance rate and to also reduce the school dropout rate.
“We also advocate for the appointment of women into education positions,” she said.
Dr. Bagudu also disclosed that she was always encouraging and supporting female child education because it is crucial to preventing child marriage.
“This is because one of the factors that cause child marriage is when they cannot afford to go to school and then have to help the family to earn income.
“So, if someone takes the burden off the family and also helps improve their entrepreneurial level and access to finance, it will be a great help,” she said.
The First Lady also disclosed that her foundation has been working with the state government to push for the passage of Child Rights Act by Kebbi State House of Assembly.
“I am hopeful that in the next couple of weeks, we would have this law in place in Kebbi,” Dr. Bagudu said.
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