Child Marriage In Nigeria-A Travesty of Justice

I first wrote about Child marriage back in May 28, 2013. The controversial Senate’s passage of a resolution to retain the provision of Section 29 (4) (b) of the 1999 Constitution. Under the section, a married underage girl is deemed to be an adult is very troubling and hits really close to home for me because my mother was a victim of child marriage due to firmly held traditions by my grand father. She was married to my father, who was about thirty years her senior, and was the third of four wives.

Although, she had some level of education, she was robbed of her childhood and dreams. I thank the U.S senators and all those that made it possible for passing the bill against child marriage, contrary to the Nigerian senators who voted on the resolution on July, 16 2013. I’m outraged and appalled, the facts is that there are people who practice this inexcusable behavior, where a  girl child becomes a victim of pedophiles all in the name of culture.

How Did We Get Here?

Child Marriage in Nigeria, particularly, Northern Nigeria has some of the highest rates of early marriage in the world. The Child Rights Act, passed in 2003, raised the minimum age of marriageto 18 for girls. However, federal law may be implemented differently at the state level, and to date, only a few of the country’s 36 states have begun developing provisions to execute the law.

To further complicate matters, Nigeria has three different legal systems operating simultaneously—civil, customary, and Islamic—and state and federal governments have control only over marriages that take place within the civil system. Domestic violence is a widespread problem; some studies report that up to 81 percent of all married women admit experiencing some form of verbal or physical abuse by their husbands. (One study of Demographic and Health Survey data suggests that the lower the age at marriage, the higher the risk of domestic violence).

A high prevalence of child marriage exists
Nationwide, 20 percent of girls were married by age 15, and 40 percent were married by age 18. Child marriage is extremely prevalent in some regions; in the Northwest region, 48 percent of girls were married by age 15, and 78 percent were married by age 18. Although the practice of polygamy is decreasing in Nigeria, 27 percent of married girls aged 15–19 are in polygamous marriages.

Married girls receive little or no schooling
Virtually no married girls are in school; only 2 percent of 15–19-year-old married girls are in school, compared to 69 percent of unmarried girls. Some 73 percent of married girls compared to 8 percent of unmarried girls received no schooling, and three out of four married girls cannot read at all.

Large spousal age differences are common and may limit married girls’ autonomy and decision making ability
The younger a bride is, the greater the age difference between her and her spouse. In Nigeria, the mean age difference between spouses is 12 years if the wife marries before age 15, compared to 8 years if the wife marries at or after age 20. Spousal age differences are even greater when the girl is a second or third wife. In polygamous marriages, the mean age difference between spouses is 15 years, compared to 8 years in monogamous marriages.

First births have elevated risks; the youngest first-time mothers and their children are especially vulnerable to poor health outcomes
Eighty-four percent of first births to adolescent girls in Nigeria occur within marriage. Among married girls aged 15–19, 62 percent have already given birth. Almost one out of four married girls gave birth before age 15.

O V E R V I E W   O F   C H I L D   M A R R I A G E

Child marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights. Many girls (and a smaller number of boys) are married without their free and full consent. By international conventions, 18 years has been established as the legal age of consent to marriage. If the timing of marriage does not change, over 100 million girls will be married as children in the next ten years.

Child marriages is closely associated with no or low levels of schooling for girlsIn West and Central Africa, girls with three or fewer years of schooling are five times more likely than girls with eight or more years of schooling to marry before age 18. Poverty leads many families to withdraw their daughters from school and arrange marriage for them at a young age. These girls are denied the proven benefits of education, which include improved health, lower fertility, and increased economic productivity.

Child marriage, in many instances, marks an abrupt transition into sexual relations with a husband who is considerably older and unchosen. 
The younger a bride is, the larger the age difference between her and her spouse. Parents frequently arrange marriages for their daughters without their input or consent; in Pakistan, only 3 percent of married girls had some say in choosing their spouse. In some settings it appears that the younger a girl is when she gets married, the less say she has in the choice of her husband.

What Can Be Done To Stop This  Travesty of  Justice?

  • Encourage state-level authorities to adopt the federal law that establishes 18 as the legal age of marriage for girls.
  • Engage communities through public campaigns, pledges, or incentive schemes.
  • Raise the awareness of parents, community leaders, and policymakers about the health and rights implications of young girls marrying much older men.
  • Develop special social and health support structures for young, first-time mothers.
  • Encourage governments and communities to commit to getting girls to school on time and to keeping them in school through the secondary level. Being in school during adolescence has important health and development benefits for girls.
  • Develop social and economic programs for out-of-school girls, including nonformal education programs.
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