Menace of Girl-Child Marriage

By: Rosemary Jamgbadi

THE menace of girl-child marriage is becoming worrisome and a great concern in Nigeria, in many parts of Africa and the world at large. The issue of girl-child marriage is more pronounced in Nigeria, the northern part of the country specifically. The menace is witnessed mostly in rural areas where awareness about it is very low indeed. In spite of the laws that have been put in place to avert or curb this menace, the perpetrators normally go scot-free simply because such laws are in reality not effective. Thus, those who are guilty of this crime cannot be put within the ambit of law. Statistics by the United Nations International Children Education Fund (UNICEF) revealed that Africa has the highest incidence of child marriage among the continents of the world. Seventy six per cent of Nigerian women between the ages of 20 and 24 are reportedly being married off before they are 18 years old, and 28 per cent are reportedly married off before the age of 15.

Admittedly, in 2013, the country attempted to change Section 29, Subsection 4 of the constitution and prohibit child marriage. However, this move was opposed by some Islamic states in the country. Mrs. Bose Ironsi, founder of the Women’s Health and Rights Project, recently shared her experience on the matter. She said child marriage was one of the biggest problems in the country. She added that there was a massive number of young girls being married off as brides. “It’s not what the child wants,” she said bluntly. Based on some of the comments I personally read, parents who engage their children in child marriage often feel that the marriage would save the family from poverty. They feel that by giving the girl-child out in marriage, they would protect her from s3xual promiscuity and she will have a safe haven from s3xually transmitted infections. But what they fail to understand is that these girls are likely to be more vulnerable to such diseases as HIV or Human Papillomavirus (HPV) than their unmarried counterparts.

Speaking to some young married women between the ages of 20 and 24 who already had five or four children in Dukawuya, Kano State, was revealing. Some of them said they got married between age 16 and 18. Wasila, who is a mother of six, narrated her sad story on how she was forced to engage in auren dole, which literally means forced marriage. She said: “At the time, I was in SSS 1 in a Government School because my parents couldn’t afford the school fees of a private school. They persuaded and convinced me to marry a man who was of the same age as my father.” Sadly, she explained, she lost her husband when she was five months pregnant. That was her sixth child.

Her words: “My husband, who died a natural death at the age of 79, made me a widow. I had to cater for six children and undertake other responsibilities.” She concluded by saying that today, there are many women in her shoes in the country, and that it was time girl-child marriage stopped in the country. Indeed, all hands must be on deck to ensure that the menace of girl-child marriage is completely eradicated in the country. The consequences are enormous. Moreover, some of the laws that were put in place to prevent the menace of girl-child marriage need to be revisited and strengthened. Besides, the government must ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book. This will serve as a deterrent to others who are similarly inclined. With all these measures put in place, the menace of girl-child marriage will be curbed in the country.

Jamgbadi is of the Department of Mass Communication, Bayero University, Kano.