Abuja, November 15, 2021: Nigerian senator and former governor of North West Zamfara state, married a 13-year-old girl in amidst of the national uproar that prompted rights groups to kick the “anti-child rights’’ action.
Similarly in October 2021, some family members of a 16-year-old Kano State girl, kicked against her marriage to 61-year-old Nigeria’s Accountant-General of the Federation.
The family accused the old husband of luring the teenager with millions of naira to tie the knot with the young woman in a secret wedding.
The two instances stood out in thousands of such cases across Nigeria because of the personalities and national figures involved.
Early child forced marriage is increasing and ravaging Nigeria, especially in the North which hosts half of the country’s population of 210 million.
Despite the enactment of the Child Rights Act which forbids child marriage, the menace is on the increase.
Save the Children International (SCI), a reputable NGO, on November 11, 2021 released a report on ”State of the Nigerian Girl – An Incisive Diagnosis of Child Marriage”.
Mr Kunle Olawoyi, the Media and Communications Manager to SCI, said 78 percent of girls in the northern region of Nigeria are forced to marry before the age of 18.
According to the report child forced marriage is more prevalent in the North West and North East where 48 percent of girls were married by age 15 and 78 percent were married by age 18.
The prevailing socio-cultural norms, Islamic religious belief, poverty and other practices are responsible for the menace and this has impacted negatively on education, empowerment, health and social safety nets.
Another major cause is lack of access to education despite the compulsory free and universal Basic Education Act of 2004.
Mr Purity Oriaifo of Save the Children International Nigeria’s Girl Champion, said: “If a girl is out of school, the likelihood of getting married at an early age is very high. When a girl is married young, she is robbed of her childhood and opportunities to realize her full potential.’’
One of the major drivers of child marriage is poverty and in an escape mechanism, sons-in-law are expected to accept the siblings of their bride as members of his new household for economic maintenance and upbringing.
”Cash and other gifts for fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law are regularly expected from the son-in-law, the report discovered,” Oriaifo says.
A youth Ambassador, Ms Maryam Ahmed, said Child Early Forced Marriage in reality violates the rights of the girl and has negative impacts on the health, as well as the dignity and integrity of the girl.
In Nigeria, a lot of 10-12-year-old girls, whose reproductive system is not ready for intimate activities and childbirth yet, are forced by their parents into marriage, a major cause of Vesico Virginal Fistula (VVF).
Ms Mariana Darboe, the UNFPA Programme Coordinator and Head of Office, UNFPA Decentralised Office for Northern Nigeria, said the absence of timely medical treatment had led to dramatic increase in VVF.
VVF is also known as obstetric fistula, an abnormal opening between the bladder and the vagina that results in continuous and unremitting urinary incontinence, which afflicts child wife.
VVF is a serious childbirth injury resulting from prolonged, obstructed labour, among other causes, mainly child wife’s inability to stand pregnancy and labour.
According to her, ending fistula is at the heart of UNFPA’s mandate hence the fight against child marriage which had led to increase maternal mortality, adolescent pregnancy prevention.
Mr Aisha-Ummi El-Rufa’i, wife of the Kaduna State Governor, who leads the campaign against VVF, says families of the poor and vulnerable must be provided with social safety nets to support the girl-child.
She called for the full implementation of policies and strategies to end child marriage, especially the Child Rights Act (2003) which provides children with the legal policy framework for seeking justice when their rights are denied or abused.
Mr Ibrahim Sese, Chief Child Protection Officer, UNICEF, on November 11, 2021, in Abuja, puts the cost of early child forced marriage at $8.9 billion annually and classifying it as violence against women and harmful practices.
Sese in a report on “The state of the Nigerian Girl Report: The Diagnosis of Child Marriage and Girls Education’’, said Nigeria has the largest number of child marriages in Africa, as one in five under-aged girls are married off early.
“When you look at the violence against children and the economic burden on violence, Nigeria loses $8.9 billion yearly as a result of violence against children, including issues regarding child marriage,” he said.
At the launch of the report, UNICEF reported that early marriage in Nigeria is not legal and that it contravenes the provision of the Child’s Rights Act of 2003.
Confirming the illegality of early marriage, Dr Ehanire Osagie, the Minister of Health, stressed the need to protect children and ensure that they grew to their full potentials by encouraging girl child education and women empowerment.
International agencies and donors, caregivers as well as professional bodies are upbeat to curtail the practice.
Mrs Lilian Okolo, the Kogi Chairperson of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) on November 11, 2021, said: ”We want to see all our children reach their full potential and so we are unveiling our illustrated Child Rights Law. Our goal is to ensure that vulnerable groups are protected.
FIDA has resolved to provide free legal services, counselling, and alternative dispute resolution services to indigent women and young girls and children, she said.
Some victims have joined the campaign. In Kano State, 14-year-old Atika Aminu Yankaba, a victum, spoke as the state Ambassaor and called for policies to reduce marginalisation and violence against the girl child. Another victim, 14-year-old Miss Dorcas Joshua, from Adamawa State, urged government to bridge the “huge gender divide in access to digital literacy”.
The Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs Pauline Tallen, at a meeting with NGOs on November 4, 2021, called on Nigerians to protect the girl child and end child marriages and other forms of Gender-Based Violence.
She pushed for the domestication of the Child Rights Act in the 36 states of the federation to pave the way to end child marriage.
“The Federal Government, working with other African countries to end child marriage in view of the serious threat it poses to the development of the girl child in the country,’’ she says.
At a two-day Northern Traditional and Religious leaders’ summit in Abuja on
September 8, 2021, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, explained that the summit seek solutions to end gender-based violence and harmful practices.
Osinbajo used the occasion to appeal to state governments to address the issue of Gender-Based Violence in their territories as the federal government had resolved to support deliberate measures to tackle the menace.
He said unless all stakeholders took practical steps to protect the vulnerable population, especially women and girls, the nation would be the worse for it in the years ahead.
“People use religion to commit all sorts of evil things, but the two religions of Christianity and Islam condemn violence against women,” 64-year-old Osinbajo who is also a Pastor in one of the new generation churches and Law professor, said.
To the Northern traditional rulers and faith leaders, the Vice President said: “You are the custodians of the society and highly respected in your communities. Stop this practice.’’
The Sultan of Sokoto and President-General, Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Sa’ad Abubakar, said no government could claim to be addressing the menace when law enforcement institutions were weak in discharging their functions.
“Governments should put in place a sex offender register to name and shame perpetrators and end the impunity around Gender-based Violence.
“Government should also establish and fund at least one GBV response centre and shelter with government-paid staff deployed and with effective linkages to other support services that survivors may need.’’
The National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Samson Ayokunle, warned that the abuse of the girl child and the vulnerable must no longer continue in “our own time’’.