Monday, July 10, 2017

Nigeria’s 23 million child brides

Nigeria’s 23 million child brides
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IT has emerged from the Common Country Analysis (CCA) report sponsored by the United Nations (UN) that Nigeria has 23 million child brides, the largest in Africa.  About 43 per cent of these children were reportedly married off before their 18th birthday, while 17 per cent were married off before their 15th birthday. And the 23 million figure has been predicted to double by 2050 based on current trends. These damning statistics might be embarrassing but they are by no means shocking. It is common to see babies producing babies all over the place, especially in the North where the premium placed on education is still somewhat low. The insistence by many on sticking to the cultural practice of early marriage that has perpetuated poverty in a cyclical fashion is a major cause. The situation is also not helped by the unfortunate complicity of some elite who hide under the cloak of religion to participate in and encourage their ilk to sustain the dated and obnoxious cultural practice.
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This lackadaisical handling of children and youths’ well-being in the country looks grimmer when the above data are added to the over 10 million children of school age who are said to be out of school and some 19.9 million women and girls who are victims of Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGMC). With these statistics, it is clear that Nigeria is not making the needed effort to give its teeming youths, especially the female component, their desired future. Why should any serious-minded society foist matrimony on a girl just starting her adolescent years? It smacks of sheer wickedness and selfishness for parents and any adult to force or encourage underage girls to marry at a point in their lives when no meaningful or life-changing formal education has been completed,  and when no trade has been learnt or career-advancing skills acquired. That is why virtually all the child brides are non-economic actors who are too incapacitated  to make any useful contributions to themselves, their communities and the country. They are unable to take advantage of economic empowerment opportunities. They depend solely on what comes from their husbands, some of whom are irresponsible adults who often resort to spousal abuse and violence to cover up for the paucity of resources to take care of their families.
Besides, the health issues associated with early marriage are also a serious challenge. For instance, marrying off underage girls to older adults who are already s3xually active heightens the risk of s3xually communicated diseases. In addition, the girls are exposed to early pregnancies with the attendant increase in the risks of maternal health challenges owing to their young age.  Some underage mothers are known to have been down with Vesico-Vaginal Fistula (VVF) after childbirth.  VVF is a serious disability and health condition that causes uncontrollable leaking of urine through the vagina, a situation that makes the husbands of the victims to abandon them and isolate them from the community because of the offensive odour and shame associated with urine leakage. These are self-inflicted and avoidable consequences of early marriage, yet many still carry on as if they have learnt no lessons. The unfortunate thing, however, is that the real victims, the child brides, have no say in the matter. They simply fall in line once their parents decree marriage.
The regularly cited reason is poverty. In a situation of severe lack, the girl-child in some homes is seen as an economic burden who must be converted to an asset by marrying her off to an older person who is expected to secure her economic well-being and, to some extent, that of her parents. But the truth is that this expectation has often come short because rather than alleviate poverty, the practice is actually perpetuating it within the circles of those who indulge in early marriage. Sadly, efforts at sensitising parents who indulge or believe in this awful cultural practice to have a rethink usually get  frustrated by their penchant for taking questionable refuge under religion, an issue too delicate to subject to robust and rational discourse in this clime. Even the Child Rights Act, a supportive law whose implementation would have helped to rein in the incidence of child wives, is hamstrung by Section 29 (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended)  which seemingly recognises every married woman as an adult, her age notwithstanding. And all attempts to amend this nebulous provision have often been met with stiff resistance, surprisingly from privileged quarters.
To change this culture of child brides, government must tackle the problem of acute poverty. In addition, official and civil society organisations’ emphasis should shift from sensitisation of parents alone to include empowerment of potential victims with information, skills and support, including but not limited to high-quality, free education. The objective should be to sufficiently empower every girl-child with knowledge and the necessary wherewithal that will enable her  to liberate herself and rebel against detestable cultural practices that put her future in jeopardy.

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