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FG, UN agencies to fight child marriage

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By Usman Oladimeji

Child marriage imposes an economic burden estimated at $10 billion.

The Nigeria government has earmarked discussions with various United Nations agencies and other partners to put an end to early child marriage trend within the nation. Among these organizations are the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), both actively involved in this initiative. During the National Dialogue on Ending Child Marriage in Nigeria, UNICEF’s Country Representative in Nigeria, Ms. Cristian Munduate revealed that there are approximately 25 million child brides in Nigeria, with a higher occurrence in Bauchi, Jigawa, and Zamfara states.

According to Munduate, child marriage violates international human rights laws and are closely linked to various forms of violence against women and girls, including intimate partner violence. In Nigeria, where approximately 25 million girls are involved in child marriages yearly, states like Bauchi have alarmingly high rates, where 74 percent of children are involved in such practice. Also, a high percentage of children in Jigawa, Katsina, and Zamfara are married before reaching the age of 18. Jigawa leads with 72 percent, followed closely by Katsina at 69 percent and Zamfara with nearly 67 percent of children marrying too young.

Detrimental impact of child marriage touches several other aspects.

Munduate, the country representative, emphasized the importance of increased investment in education for all children, highlighting that child marriage not only infringes upon human rights but also acts as a barrier to Nigeria’s social and economic progress. Research conducted by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and UNICEF indicates that child marriage imposes an economic burden estimated at $10 billion on the nation every year. Meanwhile, upon elimination of the illegal practice, the study predicts that the GDP could increase by almost 25 percent.

She added that it is crucial to recognize that child marriage has far-reaching effects that extend beyond the individual child brides to shaping our society framework. Mr. Koessan Kuawu, the Deputy Representative of UNFPA, said the detrimental impact of child marriage touches several other aspects such as health, education, and future prospects for the child. He urged stakeholders to come together and work towards abolishing this harmful practice. Speaking, Mrs. Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, Minister of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, said it is imperative to establish a collaboration among all parties in achieving the goal of eradicating child marriage by 2030.

Children should reach 18 years of age before considering marriage.

Kennedy-Ohanenye said it is crucial to inform and involve traditional, religious women groups, as well as other community stakeholders, about the harmful impacts of child marriage on young girls. Prof. Olufolake Abdulrazaq, the wife of the Kwara Governor and Chairperson of the Nigerian Governor’s Spouses Forum, highlighted the significance of utilizing legal instruments to put an end to child marriage in Nigeria. Additionally, it is important for community members, along with respected leaders from social, cultural, and religious institutions, as well as civil society groups and development allies, to come together to address the issues surrounding child marriage.

Prof. Olufolake emphasized the importance of abolishing harmful cultural practices that perpetuate gender discrimination in the country. Emir of Zamfara, Alhaji Attahiru Ahmed, speaking on behalf of Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, said children should complete at least secondary school education and reach 18 years of age before considering marriage. Dr. Michael Akinwale, representing the Methodist Church, Nigeria on behalf of Archbishop Daniel Okoh, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), stressed the importance of investing in children’s future as a solution to eradicating the practice of child marriage.

Related Article: Urgent need to desist from child marriage

Several factors influence child marriage in Nigeria including poverty, lack of education, cultural beliefs, gender disparities, and the perception of girls as lesser than boys. Data indicates that a significant portion of Nigerian girls are married off before turning 18, with a smaller percentage getting married before the age of 15. A smaller percentage of boys also experience early marriage in Nigeria. This practice is prevalent in the North West and North East regions, with over half of women aged 20-24 being married before turning 18. It is especially widespread among the poorest rural families and the Hausa ethnic community.

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UNICEF: Website

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