A human tragedy of grave proportions continues to exist in modern Nigeria.
In the 19 northern states, 48% of all girls are married by the time they reach adolescence. In Kibbe State, girls are married at the age of 11. According to the global partnership Girls Not Brides, if a girl is 15 years old and unwed, the local community starts complaining. The decision to marry is arranged by the parents or relatives. Child brides do not have a say in their marriage. Many girls feel that marriage is inevitable and they have no power and no future.
Three-quarters of all Nigerian child brides cannot read, and it is not required for husbands to look after them. Girls are often vulnerable to domestic violence and severe deprivation.
How is this possible? Poverty is often the underlying reason for child marriages. Betrothal of girls at a young age relieves parents of the cost of raising a girl. Marriage before puberty supposedly protects a girl from rape or premarital sex. Many parents believe this is the safest option for their daughters.
Early marriage is a time-honored tradition throughout parts of the world. Fifteen million girls a year are trapped in a lifetime of suffering, ill health, and little or no education.
Early marriage can have serious consequences for a girl's health. Because the pelvis of young girls is not fully developed, they are 15 times more likely to die in childbirth, and infant mortality increases to 60%.
What can be done? The Nigerian government prohibits marriage before the age of 18. The government has agreed to the Child's Right's Act of 2003 that abolished the tradition of child marriages. However, the government has control only over marriages conducted in a civil service venue. Currently, the Hausa-Fulani people in northern Nigeria, 29 percent of the population, follow a strict version of the Quran and believe in early marriage.
As a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Nigeria is bound to uphold its contract for the protection of women. When there is a clash between law and religion in respect to children, the best interest of the child should be given paramount consideration. "Better education for girls could have a real impact on child marriage," states the International Federation of Women Lawyers in Kano.
The Nigerian government must work on behalf of its girls to uphold the laws of the land and combat the adverse effects of child marriage. Statistics indicate that girls who marry later and receive an education have a greater chance of making a significant contribution to their family and the community. The lives of young girls re at stake; the signature of humanity is etched in our inhumanity.