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Nigeria: Child Marriage and the Day of the African Child

Author: Eve Knaggs
by Eve Knaggs
Posted: Jun 23, 2015

While some people tag it adherence to age long religious tradition popular in a number of regions in Nigeria, natives of other parts of the country label it paedophilia or cradle snatching. Child marriage is a condemnable act, commonly practiced in the Northern part of the country and is usually hinged on the premise that the Islamic religion- predominantly practiced in that part of the country- encourages it, to guide against fornication, an offence frown at by the Almighty God. And recently, the activities of insurgents, who kidnap young girls to be used as sex slaves and suicide bombers is also used as defense against those opposing young girls being given out in marriage. Proponents of child marriage believe that early marriage will protect these girls from being abducted by the insurgents.

By international conventions, 18 years has been established as the legal age of consent to marriage. In Nigeria, the Child Rights Act, passed in 2003, raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 for girls, but in the Northern part of the country which has some of the highest rates of early marriage in the world, 48% of girls are married out as early as 15 years and below. This is due to the fact that since federal law may be implemented differently at the State level, only few States have begun developing provisions to execute the law.

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Although the apologists of child marriage are quick to point out the religious provisions attached to this act, the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages which range from health, educational, social to psychological and economical. Health wise, girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die during child birth or during pregnancy than older women. They also have elevated risks of developing Vesico Vagina Fistula due to the immaturity of the reproductive system and their babies are especially vulnerable to poor health outcome as mortality rates for babies born to adolescent mothers are almost 75% higher than for children born to older mothers. And the children that survive usually have low birth weight or are premature.

The health challenges, particularly vesico vagina vistula- formation of opening between the bladder and the vagina- results in these child brides being rejected and abandoned by their spouses due to the stench oozing from their bodies as a result of continuous leakage of urine. This leads to both mental and emotional torture for these girls. Child brides depend on their spouses for all their needs as they are not economically empowered to provide for themselves. Therefore, often times, they lack the basic amenities needed for comfortable living and therefore will not be able to break away from the shackles of poverty.

Psychologically, due to the fact that the young girls are married to polygamists, the girls are exposed to violence and abuse by their husbands as well as co- wives who are often older and more experienced. Furthermore, the marriages mark an abrupt transition to sexual relations with men they are not familiar with. And this often leads to an initial form of resistance from the girls concern, which culminates in battery and verbal abuses by their spouses.

It is in view of the enormity of this problem that the committee on the Day of the African Child identified and adopted the theme: "25 years after the adoption of the African children's charter: Accelerating our collective efforts to end child marriage in Africa". The Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16 every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) now the African Union (AU) to honour those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976. On that day, about ten thousand black school children marched in a column more than half a mile long, protesting the poor quality of their education and demanding their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young students were shot and more than a hundred people were killed in the protests of the following two weeks.

This year's celebration is aimed at raising awareness on the dangers inherent in child marriage and an avenue to bring together those affected by and working to end the menace such as community leaders, traditional and religious leaders as well as the major stakeholders, the girl child and the parents. This forum is anticipated to be used to drum up support for the encouragement of States to adopt the federal law that establishes 18 as the legal age of marriage for girls. It is also expected that with this year's theme, the level of awareness of the continuing need for improvement of the education provided to the African child, especially girls, should be raised.

The need to comprehensively address the plight of all categories of Nigerian children and particularly end the ugly trend of child marriage cannot be over emphasized. Child marriage has health, educational and social implications for the girl child. The impact is indeed apparent in the areas where this practice is prevalent such as Northern Nigeria.

The attitude regarding women's education in Hausa society is 'ta dai samu na Sallah' (let her be able to get something to recite for ritual prayer). In essence, both boko (western) and Islamic education are haram for girls in the present Northern states. So what else can be expected when ill trained children are raising their own children before they become adults themselves? Where is equity? Where is justice enjoined in the Qur'an in this? As previously stated, child marriage results in many ugly consequences. It, therefore, behooves on every well meaning member of the society to join hand together in discouraging this ugly trend.

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Author: Eve Knaggs

Eve Knaggs

Member since: May 19, 2014
Published articles: 132

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