Child marriage is a deeply entrenched historical belief that continues to persist among the masses, transcending various geographical regions. Regrettably, many fail to acknowledge the inherent deprivation and infringement upon the fundamental rights of children that this practice entails. In a recent report by the World Bank tagged “Deliver the future: Catalyzing opportunities for women, children, and adolescents”, it was found that 12 million young girls throughout the world had their education cut short each year owing to the tragic circumstance of early marriage.
Nigeria is a prime example of a country that still engages in this deleterious tradition that puts young girls at risk. In this case, the absence of access to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) threatens future development and efforts to fortify resilience and prosperity. Marriage before the age of 18 is considered a child marriage, although for many girls in certain regions, it happens far younger. While this practice is widespread and occurs across various cultures, religions, and race, it is most common in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, such as Niger, the Central African Republic, Chad, and Nigeria.
Girls lose out on a normal childhood experience as a result.
However, this practice is unacceptable in Nigeria, as child marriage is prohibited in the country under sections 21-23 of the Child’s Right Act, 2003. Early marriage for girls often results in a variety of negative outcomes, including but not limited to sexual exploitation, violence, abuse, inequality, and detrimental cultural norms such as female genital mutilation and food taboos. They lose out on a normal childhood experience, education, and a safe future. Furthermore, child brides are at a higher risk for HIV and other STDs since they are typically unable to negotiate safer sexual practices.
The phenomenon of child marriage can result in the social isolation of young girls, preventing them from maintaining relationships with their family and friends, and depriving them of opportunities to engage with their communities. This can have a significant impact on their mental health and overall well-being. Also, the high prevalence of child marriage among girls presents significant health risks for them and has the potential to undermine the progress made by recent campaigns aimed at ending child marriage. On the contrary, parents who engage in this practice hold the belief that they are providing social and economic protection for their young daughters by arranging early marriages.
Two northern states ignored the Child’s Rights Act.
Meanwhile, the practice actually puts girls at greater risk of health issues and violence, limits their access to social networks and support systems, and keeps them entrenched in poverty and gender inequality. Unwholesome traditional and religious beliefs, armed conflicts, humanitarian crises, kidnappings, natural disasters, displacements, COVID-19 pandemic and economic slump, are threats to the lives of millions of girls and as they are being deprived of various benefits. The State of Nigerian Girls Report identifies the benefits as a lack of access to fundamental social services including health care, education, and safety nets.
Despite the fact that Nigeria ratified the Child’s Rights Act in 2003, thereby granting official recognition to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, it was not put into effect in all 36 states. Thus far, 34 states alongside FCT have successfully implemented the Act, whereas two states in the northern region have ignored it. Girl children in the states continue to face the practice of female genital mutilation. Generally, this predicament is linked to religious and cultural practices which they are unwilling or reluctant to change.
Immediate action is required to prevent further declines.
Moreover, the practice is a direct obstacle to achieving the global development targets known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), thereby immediate action is required to prevent further declines in the girls’ rights to education, health, and economic security. Girls in Nigeria and everywhere else deserve to enjoy a normal childhood, complete their education, avoid the danger and health risks of early marriage, and make their own marital decisions without coercion. For these reasons, governments at all levels need to step up their actions, with special emphasis on domesticating the Child Rights Act.