In a broader sense, child marriages are almost as bad as child trafficking. What exactly is the difference between criminals kidnapping and selling off little kids and parents giving out their female children that are below the age of 18 to a strange man who is twice or thrice her age for exchange of goodies? These young girls who are not yet physically mature enough, not to talk of emotionally mature, to handle marital demands end up experiencing untold miseries as a result of these coercive marriages.
Death during childbirth, obstetric fistulas, cervical cancer and sexually transmitted diseases—just to name a few, become the highlights of their lives. This has become the order of the day for many young girls in Nigeria, especially in the northern part. In the ranking of countries with the highest rate of child marriage across the world, Nigeria occupies the 11th position—the North western part of Nigeria prevailing over other regions of the country in child marriage practices, according to a 2017 UNICEF report.
New cases of child brides in Northern Nigeria arise almost every year to rock the media. Even after passing the Child Rights Act in 2003 that states “a person under the age of 18 is incapable of contracting a valid marriage. If such a marriage does take place, it should be declared null and void and of no effect” , non-governmental female empowerment initiatives kept emerging with the goal to end child marriage, evidence to the fact that despite the new law, child marriage was still a thing in Nigeria.
Why is child marriage a thing in Nigeria?
Why is there even a thing like a girl of 9 to 17 marrying a 30, 40, 60 or 80-year-old man in Nigeria? Attribute it to these three major reasons:
In a patriarchal society like Nigeria, girls are seen as unequal to boys and a burden to the family. So while boys deserve to be invested in and sent to school, a girl’s place is to serve the men in her life. In most cases, once she has her first menstruation, she is seen as a woman who should be married off.
Often times, the family believes that delaying the girl’s marriage could cause her to become promiscuous and bring shame upon the family by getting pregnant out of wedlock.
Islamic religion is prominently practiced in the north. And the holy Quran which is the religious book that Muslims adhere to states that a girl is ripe for marriage once she reaches maturity. Maturity, for some of these Muslim communities, is controversial. Some believe it is not tied to age, so even a girl of 9 can be deemed matured enough if she has a sound mind. Others believe it is linked to puberty. Either way, these girls will end up leaving their parents’ houses to that of a stranger before the age of 18.
Poverty is another major motivator behind these child marriages. Child marriages are more rampant in the rural areas where there is minimal access to education and good amenities than in the urban areas. For the sake of having one less mouth to feed, parents often give their children out to be fended for by an elderly man.
Why Isn’t Child Marriage A Crime In Nigeria?
The constitution contradicts itself! The same constitution that mandates the dissolution of marriages among partners below the age of 18 equally states that “any woman that is married shall be deemed to be full of age.” Besides, only 23 states out of the 36 states in Nigeria ratified the 2013 reviewed Child Rights Act.
A good number of Islamic leaders and Northern political officers passionately opposed the law as being against their tradition. Forcing one to ask, should tradition have more value than the life of a living, breathing human?
It is high time Nigeria ditched these obnoxious and savage practices being upheld as Nigeria’s custom and traditions.