Is Nigeria’s quest to end child marriage within reach? BY JUSTINA AUTA

Child marriage
Child marriage

 

 

Although what constitutes child marriage ranges from country to country in Nigeria child marriage is any formal marriage or informal union between a girl under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.

It is considered a harmful practice under international human rights law and often associated with severe forms of violence against women and girls, including intimate partner violence.

In spite of reported decline in this harmful practice over the past decade, child marriage is still widespread and prevalent in developing and underdeveloped countries.

The practice poses significant threat to the development of adolescents, particularly, the girl-child, as it not only affects their health, socio-economic status, but also negatively impacts on their education.

“Even though I was smarter and performed better in school than my brothers, my father forced me to stop going to school and married me off at 14 years.

He felt girls had no business with getting education,” says Hannatu Bala, the 28 years old roadside corn seller in Abuja.

According to Bala, the effect of not acquiring formal and informal education has affected and made her more vulnerable to societal ills.

“I have no skills. I can’t read nor write neither do I have to venture into any business.

“What will befall my six children if I leave my marriage just to escape all the abuses I face almost on a daily basis,” worried Bala told News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

The petty trader, like so many vulnerable girl-child deprived of education and forced or cajoled into marry early; endure hardship, violence and abuses. Most of them live in abject poverty.

In their deprivation, they also face the herculean task of carrying the burden of providing for their dependents.

According to 2021 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 44.1 per cent of girls in Nigeria marry before 18 years, totaling 25.9 million child brides the largest burden in Africa.

The survey, which was conducted by National Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF, puts Nigeria in the third position in global ranking.

Ms Cristian Munduate, UNICEF Country Representative in Nigeria, who spoke in Abuja at a National Dialogue on Ending Child Marriage in Nigeria, said Bauchi, Jigawa and Zamfara had the highest number of child brides in Nigeria.

The three states have a combined figure of 25 million cases.

“Jigawa has 72 per cent of its children getting married before the age of 18, Katsina has little less at 69 per cent and Zamfara has nearly 67 per cent of its children getting married.’’

While calling for more investment in education for all children, Munduate said the practice not only violates human rights but also hinders Nigeria’s social and economic development.

“A recent study by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and UNICEF estimates an annual cost of 10 billion dollars as economic burden of child marriage to the nation.

“The study also projects a potential GDP boost of nearly 25 per cent upon its eradication.

“The consequences of child marriage ripple through society, impacting not only the lives of child brides but the entire fabric of our nation,” she said

Nigeria’s government efforts to end child marriage, violence and other harmful traditional practice against children prompted the need to launch the National Campaign and Strategy 2016-2021).

It also led to the domestication of the Violence Against Person Prohibition (VAPP) Act 2015 and the Child Rights Act.

These efforts contributed to strengthening systems for quality prevention and response services and helped in addressing some of the contributory factors to child marriage in the country.

The Federal Government has also commenced engagements with relevant UN agencies, religious and traditional leaders, as well as other stakeholders to end the practice of early child marriage.

Nigeria has a national target of 2030 to end all forms of child marriage and collaboration is vital towards achieving the dream.

Recently, Mrs Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, Minister of Women Affairs, told a national dialogue on ending child marriage in Abuja that it challenge posed by child marriage required the involvement of all stakeholders.

Kennedy-Ohanenye said there was need to educate and engage traditional, religious women groups and other stakeholders at the community level on the negative effects of the practice on the girl-child.

Similarly, Prof. Olufolake Abdulrazaq, Wife of Kwara governor and Chairperson, Nigerian Governor’s Spouses Forum, said ending child marriage in Nigeria involved leveraging the instruments of the law.

“There is need for community efforts and the good standing of leaders of socio- cultural and religious institutions; civil society organisations and development partners to assess the concerns posed by child marriage.

“We need to get rid of endemic dysfunctional aspects of the various cultural traditions in the country which have an incorrect gender discriminatory norm,” she said.

Her plea seems to be getting attention at the right quarters.

Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, represented by Alhaji Attahiru Ahmed, Emir of Zamfara, acknowledging the need for children to attain at least attain 18 years with a minimum of secondary school education before getting married.

Also, President, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Archbishop Daniel Okoh, through Dr Micheal Akinwale, of Methodist Church, Nigeria, urged increased investment in the future of children to end child marriage.

Dr Haliru Yahaya, Emir of Shoga Emirate Council in Kwara  attributed poverty, illiteracy and cultures as some of the factors that fuel child marriage.

Yahaya, reiterated the need for improved access to education, empowerment, awareness creation on the negative effects of child marriage.

He also reminded both traditional and religious leaders of their pivotal role to ending child marriage in Nigeria.

The potential of the girl child is enormous. All obstacles that hinder this should be removed.

The society should take deliberate efforts to secure her future and contribute to national development by investing in her education, health and empowerment.

All stakeholders, especially the local communities, Civil Society Organisations, governments and the media should unite against child marriage.

The critical question remains: How prepared is Nigeria to end child marriage six years from now? (NANFeatures)

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