Envoy says Nigeria tops child brides chart in Sub-Saharan Africa
By AIDOGHIE PAULINUS
Issues regarding child marriage in Nigeria and some countries in Africa are justifiably commanding attention globally at the moment. Unfortunately, signs on ground show that the matter is not coming to an end anytime soon.
However, a bold effort to halt the anomaly and put the issue in proper perspective was made by the Canadian High Commission in Abuja, last week. The commission held a show titled: “The Girls’ Voices: Speaking Out Against Child Marriage.” It was a visual exhibit highlighting the worldwide issue of child, early and forced marriage in Abuja.
The event drew together officials from the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development whose duty is to tackle such issues. They were led by the Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan. The Diplomatic Corps as well as other dignitaries were also represented.
The Canadian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Christopher Thornley, said the exhibition focuses on child, early and forced marriage around the world, stressing that the issue is considered a priority by the Canadian Government.
The Canadian Government, he added, is committed to putting an end to child, early and forced marriage because the impacts of the practice “are so profound” and “so far-reaching,” noting that it was a global problem that cuts across all regions, religions, cultures and ethnicities that needed to be dealt with and was neither particular to Nigeria, nor Africa.
He told the audience that around the world, 15 million girls are married every year before they turn 18; saying that child marriage is a violation of girls’ rights: “It disrupts their access to education, it jeopardizes their health and makes them vulnerable to violence.
“And very importantly, it keeps girls from reaching their full potentials and from fully contributing to the social and economic growth of their families, communities and countries.
“In Africa, two in every five girls are married by the age of 18. In Nigeria, there are more child brides than in any other country in Sub-Saharan Africa. When you think of all of the individual stories behind those numbers, the scale of the challenge can seem overwhelming.
“The Girls Voices Exhibit tells us about the impacts of child marriage – how it affects girls on an individual level and also tells us a story of hope. It tells us about the strength and dignity of girls, as well as the momentum that is growing to bring the practice to an end.”
Alhassan said the issue of early child marriage though multi-dimensional, falls under the purview of her ministry and was not treated with levity. The All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate in the April 11, 2015, governorship election in Taraba State, said she was not surprised to learn that the photo exhibition is shown in countries around the world because child marriage is a global human development problem:
“It remains a common challenge in many parts and especially among developing countries and is common among the rural poor and populations under stress.”
In buttressing her point, Alhassan quoted the World Population Council Report 2004 which says “a third of over 330 million girls and young women aged between 10-19 years living in developing countries marry before their 18th birthday.”
Turning to the Nigeria situation, Alhassan said “statistics reveal that in North-western Nigeria, 48 percent of girls are married off by age 15, leaving 52 percent unmarried and by 18 years of age, 78 percent are married off and 22 percent unmarried.”
Alhassan continued: “Among the 15-19 year old married girls, only two percent are in school, meaning that 98 percent of them are not in school. To be specific, in Kano State for example, 59.9 percent of girls are not in secondary school; therefore, they end up being illiterate women.”
The minister summed up the Nigerian situation and concluded that as a result of the statistics, “you find that overall 82 percent of women aged between 20-24 years are not educated, leaving only 28 percent of women within this age range educated.”
Alhassan, however, said in recognition of the enormity of the problem, the government, through the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, has taken several steps to tackle the problem. The moves include: the Adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which culminated in the Child Rights Act of July, 2003; the National Child Policy Framework developed in 2006 to guide action towards protecting the rights of children and the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act 2015 which criminalizes rape and all forms of psychological and economic violation of fundamental human rights.
At the event, a young girl, Khadijat Mohammed (15), an indigene of Zamfara State and victim of child marriage, disclosed to the audience her travails in the hands of her ex-husband. Khadijat said lack of food in her matrimonial home made her to relocate to live with her parents because whenever she requested for food, her ex-husband would pounce on her. Khadijat, one out of 16 children, decided to leave her husband to live with her parents due to the unbearable situation.
She also revealed that after leaving her husband and having stayed with her parents for almost four months; her husband didn’t go to her parents’ house to look for her. And when he was eventually summoned by traditional leaders and asked for divorce, her husband requested that she refunded N100,000 to him. Her parents, Khadijat added, were able to pay him N50,000.