The Need To Stop Child Marriage Practices In Northern Nigeria

Marriage should be a pleasure and not a pressure; Child marriage as a global issue has become a danger that is eating deep into the society’s socio-cultural values, which of course affects victims mentally, psychologically, emotionally, or physically as they are not prepared for marital life to an older man who most times has children the same age as the girl bride.

Marriage is a divinely ordained institution accepted by all humans irrespective of religion, race, and color. There are three most crucial days in a man's life, which include the day he is born, the day he gets married, and the day he dies.

However, it is generally believed that man has a full knowledge of only one of these three days, which is the day of his marriage, as he does not know what happens during his birth and his post-death events. This makes marriage day one of the most important days in a man's life and, at times, considered the greatest and happiest day in a man’s life, being a day of joy and choice.

Unfortunately, many vulnerable young girls have no choice about the timing of their marriage or proper knowledge of their partner as some are forced into it, while others are too young to make an informed decision. Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individual researchers have tried to define child marriage in various ways, but the general consensus is that child marriage is a marriage carried out in which one of the spouses or both of them are less than 18 years old.

Child marriage is a global human development problem, as it remains common in many parts of the developing world. It is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Child marriage is most common among poor rural, and populated people.

In Nigeria, child marriage is endemic in the North, especially in the Northeast and Northwest geo-political zones, with over 45 percent of teenage marriages and the country's highest level of female illiteracy. In these regions, girls enter marriage and begin their sexual experience when they are young, sometimes as young as ten years old. Young girls are usually married to older men chosen by their parents. In all these endemic areas, rural girls and women are particularly affected as they continue to bear the health risks, social and economic costs of early and forced marriage, non-consensual sex, and early pregnancies.

Child marriage is globally recognized as a blatant violation of fundamental human rights because Article 1 of the Convention on the Child's Rights states that a girl must have reached her 18th birthday before entering a marital union. Also, there must be free and full consent of the choice and timing of her marriage. So, by international conventions, 18 years has been established as the legal age of consent to marriage.

In the case of Nigeria, under Sections 21 and 23 of the Child Rights Act, marriage before the age of 18 is illegal. Also, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognizes that the right to “free and full” consent to a marriage cannot indeed be “free and full” when one of the individuals involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner.

Child marriages are mostly conducted without the valid consent of one or both parties and are a marriage in which duress, whether physical or emotional, is a factor. It is generally believed that any child marriage constitutes a forced marriage, in recognition that even if a child appears to give her consent, anyone under the age of 18 years is not able to make a fully informed choice whether or not to marry.

Also, it is believed that even if a girl gives her consent to a marriage when she is still less than 18 years old, it is not an intentional or acceptable consent since any girl less than 18 is not fully informed of the extent of the responsibilities conferred on her by the consent. Besides, child marriage is a direct form of discrimination against the girl child who, as a result of the practice, is often deprived of her basic rights to health, education, development, and equality.

Apart from the fact that child marriage is mostly against the will of those involved, the effect includes violation of international laws and conventions on women’s rights, limited education, limited or near-zero entrepreneurial skills and economic opportunities, condemnation to a life of poverty, social isolation, powerlessness and infringing on their human rights, health, and well-being.

In addition, child marriage is a major hindrance to female education and entrepreneurship among women in Northern Nigeria. Most girls who were married before 18 in this region abandoned schooling and resumed reproductive roles almost immediately.

Child marriage as a global issue has become a danger that is eating deep into the society’s socio-cultural values, which of course affects victims mentally, psychologically, emotionally, or physically as they are not prepared for marital life with an older man who most times has children the same age as the girl bride. It is a human rights violation that denies girls their rights to health, education, equality, freedom from violation, and exploitation.

Based on these and many other reasons, it becomes clear that child marriage is not a healthy practice, so it should be stopped.

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