Child marriage violates children’s rights and places them at high risk of violence, exploitation, and abuse. It negatively influences children’s rights to education, health and protection, and robs girls of their childhood. The consequences do not just impact the child directly but also the family and the society at large. Girls who marry below 18 years of age are more likely to be out of school. They are likely to experience domestic violence and become infected with HIV/AIDS. They are likely to have children when they are still children and have chances of dying due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
In Nigeria, child marriage is illegal. The Nigerian government in its power has provided measures against child marriages, by signing regional and international instruments which regulate the rights of children. Nigeria ratified the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) in 1991, the African Charter on the rights and warfare of the child in 2001. Nigeria also domesticated both instruments in form of the Child Rights Act (CRA).
Nevertheless, due to mass poverty in the country, gender inequality, cultural traditions, lack of quality education on child marriage and related issues, and insecurity, Nigerians tend not to adhere to the illegality of child marriage. As an outcome of child marriage and births increase, population explosion undermines the Nigerian government’s ability to effectively plan and mobilize resources for sustainable development.
According to UNICEF in 2003, an estimated 44% of girls in Nigeria are married off before 18 years and also recorded the 11th highest rate of child marriages.
While ending child marriage in Nigeria is not an easy task, the Nigerian government will have to get rid of gender discriminatory norms, funding institutions to enforce the already existing laws made to prevent child marriage, enlisting sociocultural and religious leaders in the fight against child marriage, and creating community awareness through continuous advocacy for the rights of the girl child. Increasing parents’ knowledge on child marriage would help reduce the prevalence of child marriage in Nigeria.
Ezekiel Sunday, Department of Mass Communication, University of Maiduguri