Story by Ayoade Ahmed
Data from Sweden’s regional team for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights state that each year, around the world, multiple fundamental rights of 15 million girls are violated as they are forced into marriage before the age of 18 years, the legal age of marriage under the child rights convention. This translates to 28 girls every minute, 1 every 2 seconds.
In Nigeria, many people are definitely unaware of the gravity of the problem. Twenty one years after the world conference on women in Beijing, the commitments are far from being fulfilled. Countless women and girls still experience a blatant lack of rights, representation and resources.
Locally, statistics show that an average of 11.6 percent of adolescent girls aged 15-19 are married in the country. Twenty three percent are already mothers or pregnant with their first child while 47.6 percent of these girls have no primary education. Yet, everybody matures at varying rates. A girl who might be deemed physically mature could be a very young woman.
According to a report, in 2015, an estimated of 6 million girls were married at young age with wide variations across Nigeria – 76 percent in the Northwest and 10 percent in the Southeast. The Minister of Women Affairs and Development, Sen Aisha Alhassan has repeatedly pointed out that child marriage is extremely prevalent in the Northeast and Northwest geo-political zones of Nigeria.
In her speech, northern Nigeria has one of the highest rates of early marriage in the world with an estimated 65 percent of children married off before the age of 18 years. Poverty thrives in the same areas noted to have high child marriage with high maternal mortality and low literacy levels.
With these stark realities, it is easy to see why child marriage is a multifaceted socio-cultural and endemic harmful practice which adversely impacts the personal development and future opportunities of the Nigerian child.
It is in this regard that the event of November 21, 2016, at which the United Nations, Canadian and Swedish governments and other development partners launched a strategy document seeking an end to child marriage in Nigeria by 2030 should be viewed.
The goal of the new policy launched in Abuja by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is that a girl reaches 18 years before she can be married as well as reduce child marriage by 40 percent in 2020.