FG Sets up Technical Committee to End Child Marriage

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  • NPC puts teenage girls’ population at 13m

Paul Obi in Abuja

The federal government monday said it has set up a technical working committee to work out modalities to end outright cases child marriages in the country, predominantly in the northern of the country.

Ministry of Women Affairs’ officials expressed great concern over the increase in the rise of child marriage in Nigeria, stressing that it was one of the basic factors affecting investment in teenage girls in Nigeria.

To that effect, the government has set up a technical working group to carry out the inauguration of a national campaign to end child marriage in the country. The government however contended that child marriage is not restricted to a particular tribe, ethnic group and religion.

The Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Aisha Alhassan, represented by the Director of Child Development, Mrs. Georgette Azogu, stated these on yesterday in Abuja, in her presentation during a press conference organised by the National Population Commission (NPC) to commemorate this year’s World Population Day with the theme: ‘Investing in teenage girls.’ Alhassan said: “Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I would like to use this opportunity to intimate you that child marriages remains one of the major challenges affecting investment in teenage girls in Nigeria. The Federal Ministry of Women affairs and Social Development, along with relevant stakeholders, is planning to convene the launch of a national campaign to end child marriage in Nigeria.

“The ministry is also carrying out different programmes to ensure girl child education, gender equality and to address any other issues affecting investment in teenage girls…Stakeholders must focus on and stand up for the human rights of the most marginalised teenage girls, particularly those who are poor, out of school, exploited, or subjected to harmful traditional practices, including child marriage.

“Last year, we launched the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Bill and got the President to be part of it. The President expressed commitment to end violence against children, especially girl child. The issue of early marriage is part of violence against children. We are aware of the peculiarities; there is the chain of poverty and population explosion.”

She explained that that although government was aware of the multicultural, religious and traditional diversities in the country, efforts have been intensified to educate the people throughout the country.

“We are aware of the peculiar nature and multicultural diversities in the country. We are also aware of the negative impact of not trying to stop child marriages. In 2014, the African Union launched the campaign and last year, Nigeria was there too. Many countries were selected to lead the campaign against early marriage.

“We have developed a technical working group to end child marriage. We have a consultant going round to sensitise the people. So, I don’t think that with the way we are sensitising people throughout the country, through the efforts of development partners, there is no way they will not key into it,” Alhassan stated.

Also, NPC Chairman, Chief Eze Duruiheoma (SAN), said data from the 2006 population and housing census indicates that Nigeria’s teenage population aged 13 to 19 was 20,458,601 or 14.6 per cent of the total population, out of which the teenage girls constituted 10,001,965 or 7.2 per cent of the total population.

According to Duruiheoma, by 2016, the population of the teenage girl increased to 13,787,775. He said that the conditions in which majority of the teenage girls live and the challenges they have to surmount on daily basis presents a pathetic picture.

According to him, “without education, good health and with little or no control over her own body, the future of the teenage girl in Nigeria is imperilled, while her potential may never be realised, more so as the challenges and obstacles faced by the teenager multiply if she lives in a village and is from a poor household.”

He observed that “teenage girls in Nigeria like in other parts of the world constitute an important segment of the population whose conditions have great implication for the welfare of the general population and the quest for sustainable development.

The NPC chairman said: “Globally, about 20,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth every day in developing countries. An estimated number of 3.2 million unsafe abortions occur among girls every year, while the percentage of girls aged between 15 and 19 who have had sex is 10 per cent. Indeed, the second leading cause of death among girls aged between ages 15 and 19 are complications of pregnancy and child birth, including Versico Virginal Fistula.”

Duruiheoma explained that at the national level, the conditions of the teenage girls were not in any way better, neither are the burdens they carry lighter.

“Data from the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (2013) indicates that an estimated 23 per cent of women aged 15 to 18 years have begun childbearing of which 17 per cent have had their children and 6 per cent are pregnant with their first child.

“Also, 32 per cent of teenagers in rural areas have begun child bearing as opposed to 10 per cent in the urban areas of Nigeria. The report shows disparities within the geo-political zones as follows, North-west (36 per cent), North- east (32 per cent), North-central (19 per cent), South-south (12 per cent), South-east (6 per cent) and South-West (8 per cent) respectively”, Duruiheoma emphasised.

According to Duruiheoma, no nation can lay claim to development until its teenagers have equal rights and opportunities to lead a healthy life and free from culturally-induced attitudes and negative practices that limit their capacities to make meaningful contributions to national development.

He stated that “we must use the occasion of the commemoration of the 2016 WPD to resolve to mainstream the concerns and aspirations of the teenage girls into the centre stage of our developmental efforts, we must also resolve to consign into the dustbin of history all practices that deny the teenage girls the opportunity to quantitatively and qualitative education, good health care including reproductive health services, protection against sexual abuses, early marriages and trafficking.”

The NPC chairman said he was optimistic that “when a teenage girl has the power, the means and the information to make her own decisions in life, she would be more likely to realise her full potentials and become a positive force for change in her home, community and the entire country.”