Key stakeholders, including Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and traditional leaders working to end child marriage in Nigeria, reached a conclusion on Thursday, November 10, 2022, that it will be impossible for Nigeria to end child marriage unless it closes existing gaps in policy framework and implementation that protects the rights of children. The session was organized by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development in collaboration with the development Research and Project Center (dRPC) and other partners. It was funded by Ford Foundation.
The co-chair of a coalition of CSOs to end child marriage in Nigeria, Carolyn Seaman, said at the event that there are existing gaps in the policy process that protects the rights of children from early marriage and other harmful practices, such as gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, etc. Miss. Seaman said that until this is addressed, the country is far from ending the child marriage menace. Surprisingly, child marriage is quite common in the north and even in the supposedly educated south in Nigeria.
Nigeria accounts for about 22 million child brides.
Child marriage has been defined as any marriage where at least one of the parties is under the age of 18. Data from various sources have shown that this type of marriage is prevalent in many parts of the world. Globally, more than 650 million were married before turning the age of 18, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). In the report, it is shown that about 250 million of these children were coerced into the union before the age of 15. Although boys are also married as children, the practice is more prevalent among girls, who are said to be disproportionately affected.
According to data from UNICEF, about 58 percent of girls in Nigeria get married before the age of 18. Also, the data shows that 15 percent of girls in Nigeria get married before they turn the age of 15. To put this in perspective, according to Statista, in 2018, 70 percent of women in Nigeria aged 15 to 49 years are married, while 25 percent of them never married. This shows that a substantial number of them got married before the age of 18. According to UNICEF, Nigeria presently accounts for an estimated 22 million child brides. The number is also projected to increase by seven million in 2050.
Some states in Nigeria are yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act.
Miss. Seaman said that ensuring the domestication of the Child Rights Act (CRA) in all states in Nigeria is a move towards ending child marriage. She said that some states, however, are yet to accept and domesticate the Act which aims to protect children. She also lamented that some states where the Act is already domesticated fail to “indicate the age [that] a child should be married.” So, there are still gaps in such laws. Miss. Seaman said more effort is required to mobilize action around domesticating the Act to protect children across the country.
A representative of the African Union (AU), Hermine Takam, said that domesticating and implementing the Act will do much in Nigeria’s effort towards ending child marriage. She said that statistics provided by the Ministry of Women Affairs prove that many girls forced into early marriages are not getting justice. She added that there must be a strong government-led response and strategy to address the problem. After Nigeria adopted the United Nation’s convention on the rights of a child in 2003, child marriage became illegal, and the minimum age of marriage increased to 18. While the legislation was put in place by the FG, states are meant to domesticate the Act. According to UNICEF, only 31 states out of 36 states in Nigeria have done so and implementation is still very low.
Seaman says government should collaborate with CSOs.
Miss. Seaman said that it is important for the government to work hand-in-hand with CSOs and other stakeholders to know who is accountable for certain aspects and keep track of progress. She calls for improvement on the coordination and harmonization of efforts as stakeholders working in the space. While giving his remarks, the Jakadan of Gusau, Abdullahi Maiwada, said that marrying off a child at an early age has lots of health consequences. He said stakeholders across the country must come together to end child marriage.