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Under age Marriage Life in Nigeria

By Adeparua Damilola

It has recently been reported that a father collected an HP laptop as bride price after giving out his 12 years old daughter in marriage. To a rationally minded human being, such incidence is nothing other than absurd and that alone also makes what is called fatherly love questionable or could that be as a result of poverty? On a closer look, a laptop is neither food nor money. It only shows the level of degradation and stampede on the rights, self-esteem and future of the girl child in the society. How could a girl of 12 years be withdrawn from school and handed over to a strange man as her husband, exchanging her future with a mere laptop?

According to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), child marriage refers to any formal or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child. The internationally recognized definition of a child is “every human being below the age of 18 years.

There is a need to buttress the fact that child marriage is not limited to girls as explained by a source that globally, 115 million boys and men were married before age 18. The countries in which child marriage among boys is most common are geographically diverse and differ from the countries in  which the practice is most common among girls but child grooms are less numerous than child brides.

According to a source, in 2019, 1 in 5 women, aged 20-24years were married before the age of 18. During the past decade, the global rate of child marriage has declined with south Asia having the largest decline during this time. Today, the risk of child marriage is highest in sub Saharan Africa, where more than 1 in 3 women aged 20-24years were married before the age of 18. Child marriage often results in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupts schooling and increases a girl’s risk of experiencing domestic violence.

In many countries, the legal age for marriage is 18. Yet, some according to a source, the percentage of girls married before 18 in Niger is 77%, in Chad 71%, in Mali 63%, in Cameroon 61% and in Mozambique 57%. In parts of Ethiopia 50% of girls are married before the age of 15 and in Mali 39%. Some marriages even occur at birth.

Some parents give birth to many children that they end up being unable to cater for which makes them give out their young daughters out in marriage even to old men in a bid  to ease their burden of paying school fees or meeting the needs of the girl child while some parents get paid on daily basis after giving out their children in marriage at a tender age  unconcerned about the mental,  physical and emotional wellbeing of the  children.

On the other hand, some parents send their female children away in marriage early due to poverty. They believe that when they send such children to rich or influential men in the society, their children will be financially secured and they also  will be better off having rich in-laws who will once in a while  put hands in their pockets for their sake while some parents see their female children as  business ventures, trading them for money or possessions.

Although some parents also believe that, they are protecting their children from contracting sexually transmitted diseases or preventing them from being wayward by giving out their children in marriage at a very tender age. Notwithstanding, on no account should children be married off at a tender age because it is a violation of human rights.

It has been recorded that across the globe, levels of child marriage are highest in the Sub Saharan Africa, where 35% of young women were married before age 18, followed by South Asia where nearly 30% were married before the age of 18. Statistics also show that without further acceleration, more than 120 million additional girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030.

In addition, the issue of children delivering children is more rampant in African society. According to another source, a high percentage of girls in Ethiopia 25%, Uganda 42% and Mali 45% have given birth by the age of 18 compared to only 1% in Germany, 2% in France and 10% in the United States. From this same source, compared with women over 20 years of age, girls 10-14 years of age are 5-7 times more likely to die from childbirth and girls 15-19 years of age are twice as likely to die from childbirth. For example in Mali, the maternal mortality rate for girls aged 15-19 is 178 per 100,000 live birth and for women aged 20-24, only 32 per 100,000. In Togo, for the same age groups, the rates are 286 and 39 respectively.

Now, if women, who are above 20 years still encounter complications in their bid to give birth, is there need to mention the fact that the complication that will be encountered by a pregnant girl of 12 years being worse? This exactly is the answer to the high level of mortality among women.

In addition, girls who marry before the age of 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to remain in school. They have worse economic and health outcomes than their unmarried peers, which are eventually passed down to their own children further straining a country’s capacity to provide quality health and education service.

In an attempt to curb the rampaging increase of child marriage, it is pertinent to know that since 1948, the United Nations (UN) and other international agencies have attempted to stop child marriage. Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights posits that persons must attain ‘full age’ when married and marriage should be entered into ‘freely’ and with full consent. This explains that marriage involving little children who are not old enough to give their consent or agreeing willingly and not forcefully to get married is a violation of human rights.

Also, article 16 of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) require minimum ages for marriage to be specified and says that child marriages are illegal.

According to a source, in 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development stated that the minimum age of marriage should be raised and enforced, all forms of coercion and discrimination should be eliminated, marriage should be entered into with free consent and as equal partners and the education and employment of girls should be encouraged.

It has been noted that parenting at a young age when the person is yet to learn any skill can lead to aggression, anger, frustration and depression. It also leads to stillbirth, miscarriage, unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

Need I say then that child marriage is a major disruption to women’s education? Majority of the children sent away to marry at a tender age are stopped from attending schools after getting married because they are not allowed to add value to their lives  and since education brings about enlightenment, in order not to gain their freedom and fight  for their rights, they  are turned into child bearing machines and also end up raising their female children the exact way they were raised which in effect makes the percentage of uneducated women in the African society increases and eventually paves way for male dominance in the society  because the majority of the African women are unaware of their rights.

Concisely, child marriage is more of enslavement; it blindfolds and put African women into bondage while serving as the device used by the African men to prolong Discrimination and domination of the male gender over the female gender in the African society. Above all, it is a violation of Human right because it stampedes on women’s freedom and tampers with their mental, social and economic stability while increasing their mortality rate.

Adeparua Damilola, 08144147369         

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