Kasim Sumaina in Abuja
The United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed that Nigeria has the world’s highest number of child brides with 49 per cent of Nigerian women married under the age of 18, according to latest figures.
UNICEF stated that early marriage and childbirth can be extremely harmful for girls. It added that girls under 18 are more likely to suffer from fistula, to die in childbirth and to give birth to stillborn babies. Children born to child mothers are more likely to suffer from stunting and wasting.
This was disclosed on Tuesday by UNICEF Country Representative on behalf of the United Nations in Nigeria, Mohamed Fall, at the official launch of the nation-wide campaign to end child marriage at a ceremony in Abuja making Nigeria the 16th country to join the African Union.
According to Fall, “With 49 per cent of Nigerian women married under the age of 18, according to latest figures from 2013, Nigeria has the world’s highest number of child brides.”
He stated that the campaign launched is a call to action. “It is an attempt to save the lives of adolescent girls pressed into marriage too early, many of whom become pregnant and are at a higher risk of complications in pregnancy or childbirth.
“These complications are a leading cause of death among adolescents girls in countries like Nigeria; a cause of death that is unnecessary and unacceptable,” he added.
Speaking in similar vein, Minister of Women and Social Development, Sen. Aisha Jummai Alhassan, said that the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, together with partners UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, UNICEF and Save the Children, developed the campaign in line with the Sustainable Development Goals that Nigeria has committed to achieve by 2030.
She added that one of the targets in these goals calls for the elimination of all forms of harmful practices, including child marriage.
Mumbai explained that, child marriage threatens girls’ lives and health, and it limits their full potential. “This event, held during the globally-marked 16 days of Activism against Gender-based violence, is an attempt to provide a better future for our girls”.
According to her, “Child marriage varies with a girl’s education and the economic status of her family. Adolescent girls with no education tend to marry at an average of about 15 years, while age of marriage increase to 18 for girls with primary education.
“Average age of marriage for women with secondary education rises to about 21, when women are physically and emotionally better equipped for marriage and childbirth. Likewise, girls from the poorest households on average marry at age of 15, while girls from the wealthiest households marry at an average age of 23.
She however hinted that the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development launched the national strategy to end child marriage, developed as a guideline to raise awareness about and address the harmful impact of child marriage. The report advocates for policies and actions that protect girls’ human rights and remove barriers to law enforcement.