Give girls a voice: End child marriage in Nigeria

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Nigeria has one of the highest rates of child marriages in the world with almost half of the girls married before the age of 18. This major public health problem, with numerous devastating consequences, is worse in the North western region of the country with over two thirds of adolescent girls married. Early marriage causes the untimely initiation of sexual activity resulting in high risk pregnancies which are often associated with obstetric, fetal, neonatal and psychosocial complications. It is worsened by poverty, low educational levels, unmet needs for contraceptives, maternal deprivation, preexisting psychosocial problems in the family and general non-functioning family units.

The Child Rights Act, passed in 2003,  states 18 years as the minimum age of marriage but only 23 out of the 36 states in the country have taken concrete steps in the implementation of this Act. Enforcing the minimum age for marriage as 18 in all 36 states of the country will expose the teenagers to more opportunities for education, better paid jobs outside the home and decision making roles in their community. It will also give them the knowledge and power to negotiate safer sexual practices, reduce their vulnerability to domestic violence and reduce obstetric complications and HIV/AIDS prevalence among adolescents.

Millions of girls and women already live with the consequences of child marriage in Nigeria and these figures will continue to rise if we do not take action now. There is an urgent need for the government to display strong political leadership and make this issue one of national importance to bring an end to this menace. The need to stop child marriage in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized and an enforcement of the minimum age of marriage is a step in the right direction to empower adolescent females to live healthier lives.

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4 Responses to “Give girls a voice: End child marriage in Nigeria”

  1. cjjar Says:

    Thank-you for this interesting and important post. A few questions come to mind as I read. How would this law be enforced on a practical level? For example, are there national registration systems for marriages in the country, whereby officials can track marriages and check the age of those marrying? If so, and a couple is denied legal registration for marriage, would they get married anyways and just not be registered? Would there be a penalty for couples caught marrying ‘under the table’ under age, and if so, would it be enough to deter them? In a culture where early marriage is tradition, I just wonder if a law against it will really make a difference? Are there examples from other parts of the world with high early marriage rates, where a law against it has made a substantial impact? Education also impacts early child marriage in Nigeria: “Education is a strong indicator of whether a girl will marry as a child. 82% of women aged 20-24 with no education were married by the age of 18, as opposed to 13% of women who have at least finished secondary education” (http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/nigeria/). UNICEF’s site also asserts that girls in Nigeria, especially in the North, have lower access to education (http://www.unicef.org/nigeria/children_1937.html) Thus, I wonder if a focus on education policies increasing girls access to education in Nigeria, would also be wise, tackling early child marriage at another root.

  2. lydiastewartblog Says:

    Good discussion of an important public health issue! What are some of the cultural, economic, political, and social factors that drive the practice of child marriage? Does the Childs Rights Act work to alleviate some of these drivers? Sadly, if factors influencing the practice such as poverty of a girl’s family or societal pressure to marry their daughter young are not addressed, a law such as this will not have as wide an impact as needed. I agree that exposing girls to more opportunities for education, decision making, and economic involvement have beneficial impacts on their health and wellbeing immediately and in later life. Your call to action for political leadership to take up this issue is well founded and thoroughly supported by evidence.

  3. andrewlongosz Says:

    Thank you for this post. I’ve done a lot of work in sub-Saharan Africa where child marriage are a large problem. A couple of studies I am currently working on are to increase adolescent and young women (ages 15-22 years) education status. Many of these girls that are being married at a young age are less educated than those who are not. I realize this can also be due to culture beliefs of inter-generational partnerships. In Zimbabwe and Swaziland where I have done work, inter-generational partnerships are very common. These partnerships also lead to increasing rates of HIV/AIDS and STIs among the population. These inter-generational marriages from an economic perspective decrease the human capital of younger women because they are not able to enter the work force if they are having to procreate with their husbands.

    Some additional methods to decrease pregnancies among young brides are the use of contraceptives to limit births, and allow young women the ability to go to school and work to increase their income and standing within their family. It is hard for these young wives to make family decisions when their husbands are the primary bread winners. Thus, increasing their own human capital will allow them to get jobs, and may even decrease the rate of inter-generational marriages leading to less adolescent girls and young women getting married.

  4. mmmengxu Says:

    Thank you for posting this advocacy! I just learned how serious this issue is. I did some search, and a good news is that UNICEF pointed out that adolescent girls involved in child marriage in Africa has decreased from 44% in 1990 to 34% 2015, while a bad news is that with a faster population increase, the population of adolescent girls being married will increase from 125 million now to 310 million in 2050, given the slow reduction in child marriage rate in Africa. I know in some places, child marriage is an issue that rooted in gender inequality, tradition and poverty. In some remote areas in China, people live in poverty have no choice but arrange their girls to marry with guys who are relatively rich, however, these guys are either disabled or much older than their daughter. These cases happened a lot in China’s recent history, and still happen now, but rare, compared to the prevalence of child marriage in Nigeria and other countries like Bangladesh, Guinea, Mozambique, et al. I totally agree with a nationwide act should be carried out in Nigeria to set a minimum girls age for marriage and step by step to stop the child marriage. The consequences of child marriage are an appalling violation of human rights, including the physical damage ( health risks of early pregnancy and childbirth like the complication of pregnancy and childbirth, increasing risks of intimate partner sexual violence and HIV infections), phycological damage (losing girlhood, ending their education, blocking any opportunity to gain vocational and life skills, being a mother without psychologically ready), as well as the persistent discrimination to young girls. I think the minimum age of marriage act can be effective if the law has strict legislation and implementation process. In addition, we can think about the next steps, such as providing equal access to primary and secondary eduction for girls, no matter married or not married, providing options for employment and livelihood skills, sexual and reproductive health info and services and resource from violence, to better address and mitigate this issue and help those girls.

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