A non-governmental organisation, Centre for Women’s Health and Information (CEWHIN), recently gathered stakeholders in Lagos to discuss the issue of child marriage in Lagos State and across the country.
CEWHIN equally used the opportunity to inform Nigerians of its advocacy for the prohibition of child marriage in two Lagos communities – Agege in Agege Local Government Area and Idi-Araba in Mushin Local Government Area of the State.
In her opening remarks, CEWIHN’s Programme Officer, Tolulope Aderibigbe, said the event was also an opportunity to sensitise the Lagos State government and community stakeholders on their responsibilities to end the practice of child marriage in the communities.
She said the organisation had trained about 30 young girls in the two communities, who are now helping to sensitise and educate other young girls on the dangers of child marriage.
She said CEWIHN’s research in Agege and Idi-Araba confirmed that even though the practice is most prevalent among the Hausa communities, other ethnic nationalities are also involved.
Aderibigbe said the organisation tried to create community awareness on the ills of child marriage, community awareness on the child rights law in the state, public awareness on the practice in the state so as to direct government’s attention to it and to get the support of the community heads in the two communities among others.
In her keynote address, Mrs. Adeola Awogbemi decried the practice of child marriage, describing it as a disheartening issue.
She noted that 44 percent of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday, while another 18 percent are married before they attain the age of 15.
“According to UNICEF, Nigeria has the third highest absolute number of child brides. As at today, we have 3,538,000 child brides in Nigeria,” she stated.
She, however, noted that child marriage is most prevalent in North East and North West parts of Nigeria, although it also happens in other parts of the country.
She lamented that despite ratifying several instruments aimed at eliminating child marriage in Nigeria, not much has been achieved owing to government’s failure to implement such treaties.
“Nigeria has ratified a number of international instruments aimed at eliminating child marriage. Nigeria sent a joint statement at the 2014 Human Rights Council, calling for a revolution on child marriage. It has also ratified the convention on the child in 1991 which set a minimum age of marriage at 18. In 2016, Nigeria launched the African Union’s campaign to end child marriage in Africa. In 2001, Nigeria ratified the Africa Charter on the Rights and Welfare of a child, including the article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage, and in 2004, Nigeria ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the right of women in African, including article 6, which sets the minimum age of marriage at 18.
“In 2016, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development launched a national strategy to end child marriage. The vision of that strategy is to reduce child marriage by 40 percent in 2020 and end the practice entirely in 2030. But this is 2020 and nothing has been done. We can no longer sit down and wait for government alone to do it,” she submitted.
She quoted statistics as saying that child marriage rate has only reduced by nine per cent since 2003. She listed factors that drive child marriage in Nigeria to include gender inequality, low education, political and economic ties as well as gender norm.
Aisha Hassan and Haliyu Aliya from Idi-Araba as well as Aisha Shafi from Agege, were among the 30 girls that were trained by CEWIHN. They promised that they would never get married until they are matured, saying the campaign as well as the training had made them to understand the risks involved in child marriage.
Fatima Mohammed, a mother from Idi-Araba lamented that lack of access to education and poverty were among factors that push parents into giving their daughters away in marriage at a very tender age.
“We have only one secondary school in Idi-Araba. There is no government secondary school in Idi-Araba; we only have private secondary schools there. Most parents are so poor that they cannot send their daughters to private schools. So, after primary schools and they cannot sponsor their daughters to private secondary schools, the next thing is to marry them off,” she said.
The chairman of Arewa Community in Idi-Araba, Abdul Bassit Sanusi and Mallam Abdullahi from Agege both spoke on the efforts of the Hausa communities in the two areas to ensure that the issue of child marriage becomes a thing of the past.
“In Agege, irrespective of the potential challenge, we are determined to reduce the scourge to the barest minimum. We call on other non-governmental organisations to come on board so that together, we can achieve the desired result,” he stated.
On his part, Sanusi said: “In Idi-Araba, we face a lot of threat and challenge because some people take it as a religious and tribal issue, but we are making progress, and we will succeed eventually,” he assured.