- It’s high time we stopped the practice
Child marriage is a reality in Nigeria, which is sad indeed. But it is heartwarming that the Federal Government is making efforts to end the practice, regarded globally as a human rights violation. According to Minister of Women Affairs Pauline Tallen, the government “is determined to protect the right of the girl child through working with partners and communities to end child marriage and other forms of gender-based violence in Nigeria as a strategic decision of the government to promote, protect, and place the girl child to attain her potentials in Nigeria.” It’s good news but reflects a bad situation.
She expressed the government’s position on the issue during a meeting with the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) working on Ending Child Marriage in Nigeria supported by the Ford Foundation and the development Research and Projects Centre (dRPC), and the coalition of CSOs Technical Working Group in Nigeria.
Child marriage refers to any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child, according to United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). The practice remains widespread, and is said to involve one in five girls today. Girls are more affected by the practice.
Importantly, the minister said the government would collaborate with other stakeholders “to ensure the Child Rights Act is domesticated across the 36 states of the federation to pave the way to end child marriage.” It is noteworthy that the act came into effect in 2003 under the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration. The right not to be married before age 18 is stipulated in Part III of the Child Rights Act.
As of 2016, the Child Rights Act was codified into law in 24 of the country’s 36 states. However, it remains ineffective because of poor implementation, according to a 2010 report. Monitoring and implementation are needed to make the law effective.
Child marriage not only robs girls of their childhood; it also threatens their lives and health. Studies indicate that girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to remain in school. In addition, they have worse economic and health outcomes than their unmarried peers, which are ultimately passed down to their own children.
Also, child brides usually become pregnant during adolescence, facing increased risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, which may affect them and their babies. The practice affects both their physical and psychological well-being, and negatively affects their future.
Factors that encourage child marriage vary across countries and cultures, but it has been established that they include poverty and lack of education. Outdated ideas about gender roles and marriage age are also enabling factors.
Significantly, Nigeria is tackling the practice in the context of a worldwide campaign against it. In 2016, UNICEF and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched the Global Programme to End Child Marriage. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals demand global action to end child marriage by 2030, which underlines the international focus on the issue.
It is commendable that the country has a Child Rights Act that stipulates protection from child marriage as well as the punishments for the practice to the adult parties involved. But it is counterproductive that the act is not ratified in all the states, and is poorly implemented. The Federal Government should seriously pursue acceptance of the law in all the 36 states of the country. Also, there is a need to enlighten those who favour the practice to rethink and reject it based on demonstrable evidence of its negativity.
Ending child marriage in the country is long overdue. Enforcing the law against the practice is necessary if the authorities are serious about ending it. It is an unacceptable violation of child rights, particularly the rights of the girl child.