By Evelyn Okakwu
According to analysts; Child marriage is a formal marriage or informal union entered into by an individual before reaching the age of 18. Studies have shown that while many countries of the world have stipulated 18 years as the consent age for child marriage to protect children from exposure to any form of sexual exploitation, most countries, ironically fail to abide by the provisions of these laws.
Nigeria, for example, has reportedly taken part in some of the most progressive treaties in the world when it comes to protecting the rights of girls and women, such as the Maputo Protocol which establishes the minimum age of marriage at 18.
Unfortunately however, like many other countries of the world, Nigeria has practically failed in implementing these laws.
According to an earlier report on the subject; “While 32 African countries have set the minimum age of marriage at 18, many allow exceptions. The Africa child policy forum, a member of Girls Not Brides, has done an extensive study of minimum age of marriage laws throughout Africa. It found that in Ethiopia, for example, the Ministry of Justice has discretionary power to authorise marriages before 18. In Burkina Faso it is the Civil Court. In Angola, the law accepts that 15-year-old girls can be married with their parents’ consent, even though the age of marriage is 18.”
And in Nigeria; Aljazeera in 2010 reported that Senator Sani Ahmed Yerima paid $100,000 as dowry for a 13-year-old Egyptian girl.
Furthermore it was reported that the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution recommended the removal of section 29(4)(b), which states that; “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age”.
The reason, according to the report was that the provision violated the rights of some Muslims.
In response to these allegations and other failures on the part of history, in safeguarding the life of young girls the founder of, Isa-Wali empowerment initiative, Maryam Uwais, stated thus: “Leaders all over the world think about their communities, before they think about themselves, and Nigerian leaders should remember what they represent before taking any decision, as set standards.”
Uwais who was speaking at a recent media campaign aimed at showcasing the Girls visuals for; “Two young to wed”, a global network against child marriage, at the Canadian embassy in Nigeria, stated further that; “As a Muslim myself, I do not see how we can justify child marriage when you look at the scriptures and you know that God is a just God”.
The Canadian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Perry Calderwood, who noted that: “The subject of child early and forced marriage is a priority for Canada’s foreign policy, as well as, development policy said it is estimated that there are about 14 million girls around the world that are married, each year before they turn 18. This number amounts to about 1 in 3 girls in the developing world”.
Similarly, UNICEF had reported in its recent estimates that 39% of girls are married before 18 years old. Speaking further, the Canadian high commissioner said: “Also about 1, in 10 of these girls is married before the age of 15. The implications of child marriage in Nigeria are large and profound”.
“Perhaps the most obvious way that the girl’s life is affected is with regard to her education. Very often, when a girl is married at a young age, it implies that her education is curtailed. It is the end of her formal studies, and her potential as an individual is limited, with her studies been cut off”.
“Studies have found evidently that girls, and even boys who leave studies at an early age have limited economic prospects, throughout their lives”.
The effect of child marriage seemed endless as Uwais spoke further: “We have maternal health issues; girls dying, while having children”.
“Also in most areas many of the children that suffer from malnutrition, developed the problem from their malnourished mothers. Most times, girls who are malnourished are unable to meet up with their full nutritional potential. And the child does not ask questions; once she is pregnant. The child grabs from what it can.
When the child is born, both he and the mother are undernourished”.
“It is frightening to realise the fact that in 10, upward to 20 years, these children are not able to reach their full potential; in terms of height and even cognitive abilities”.
“We have at least about 20, 000 yearly, and the repair centers can only cope with 4, 000 repairs a year. The only way to combat this is to prevent young girls giving birth.”
Obviously these problems are as enormous as they are critical. Yet in a country as controversial as Nigeria; what hope is there for current and potential victims of this crime against humanity?
Especially since the problem seams mono directional in nature, as indicated by Uwais; “The truth is that those who really benefit from child marriage are the parents and the husband. They are the ones with the bears and the turbans; they are not the little girls. They are the ones that interpret and convey”
Executive Secretary of Isa-wali Foundation; Amina Hanga, also gave a personal account of the problem: “What struck me was the recent bombing that took place in a mosque in Kano. Many men were killed, who were husbands to the widows they left behind. We went to visit them, and I was particularly touched by the fact that most of these girls were married off, when they were still children; none of them were educated. They have no economic skill, and they have been left without their bread winners”.
“Many of them had such large numbers of children, up to 10. Many of them were pregnant, and some of the babies were so young. One was just about 40 days old. What will happen to these women? I live and work in Kano, and I can tell you that this is just a tip of the iceberg. This is something that happens every day, from the rural to the urban areas. It is a bit better in the rural, but in the urban areas, the prevalence is higher because there is a lot of ignorance on the importance of education, especially of the girl child.”
This means to cambat the problem a lot of awareness creation needs to be done; both for the girls and the society at large, as indicated by the Cannadian high commissioner: “It is the challenge of each society to work, by ways of dialogue to solve the problem.”
Again, Uwais shares some insight: “A lot of these have to be done by government; there is a limit to what civil societies can do. People need to know that there is a direct link between child marriage and all the effects, not only for the girls but also for the entire society; the malnutrition, illnesses and all the effects that comes with it”.
A lot of things have been practiced in context that differs from what should be expected. Many Muslim countries are pegging the minimum age for marriage, because they realise that it is harmful to the society.
Even within Islam there are doctrines that are used to prevent harm. I think the media can bring out the story of how it is been done in other countries that are as Muslim as we are so that Nigerians can learn, that pays no one to act so selfishly”.
“Where ever it is you are; and in whatever status; single or married, you can only excel when you have the tools to excel and these tools include health education and network to be able to access all these features. When a girl is cut off from her pairs at such tender age, as 15, or even less in some cases: as I said earlier; it is frightening to realize the fact that in 10, upward to 20 years, these victims are not able to reach their full potentials”.
“Leaders should reflect on the harm they are doing, not just to the girls, but to the entire community. There is no doubt that child marriage has a lot of implications and there is no way we will progress if our girls remain uneducated and mired in poverty”.
“So we can talk about advocacy and policies, not just punishment. We
need to find innovative creative ways of teaching our girls and having them remain in schools”.
And finally she adds: “We need to encourage parents to bring their children to school and leave them in school, because that will make the difference”.