By Christina Ude

Northern Nigeria has some of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, in which an underaged girl is married to a man who is usually old enough to be her father and in some circumstances, grandfather. The younger the child, the greater the age difference is between her and her husband. The legal age for females to marry in most parts of Nigeria is 16 to 18 however, underage marriage remains a huge concern and a common occurrence in the northern parts of Nigeria.

According to United Nations Children?s Fund (UNICEF) projections, Nigeria will have the highest number of child brides by 2050. In Nigeria, more than half of adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 who are currently married, have husbands who are 10 or more years older than they are. Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. More than one in three (about 250 million) entered into a union before age 15.

In Northern Nigeria, a child bride is sent unprepared to go and live with her new husband right after her bride price has been paid by her much older husband and his family. As soon as she moves into her new home, she’s expected to start her new life as a married girl, which automatically reduces her educational attainment or completely ends it. She begins to cook, clean, carry water, bear children, and cater to her new husband and sometimes, to her extended family. Child marriage denies young girls their childhood, reduces a girls education prospects and denies further education and their children are also more likely to be illiterate. Child brides are more likely to face infant mortality, be vulnerable to poor health, experience domestic violence , live in poverty, remain illiterate and even die during child birth than their peers who go to school and marry later in life.

It has been said many times that the root causes of child marriage are linked to poverty. Lack of economic opportunities, cultural norms, and lack of school supplies and access to education are all strongly associated with child marriage. Why should child marriage end? This is a question that is constantly on my mind and on the mind of so many other Nigerians. Child marriage is wrong, very wrong and needs to end. The fact that some parents see it as an advantage doesn’t make it in any way right. The disadvantages of being a child bride outweigh the advantages (if any). Poverty stricken parents see it as an advantage especially if they have many children to cater to. So, it’s less financial burden on them, if one is married out at a young age, one less mouth to feed, one less mouth to educate and one less child to worry about.

Education is the solution to ending child marriage in Nigeria because it delays the age at which a woman marries and provides an alternative opportunity for girls other than marriage. It can also break the cycle of poverty and foster greater social justice. Educated and empowered girls are better able to nourish and care for their children, leading to healthier, smaller families. These are just some of the reasons why child marriage needs to end. Ending child married is very tough in Nigeria but we can stand firm and say NO to child marriage. Many years ago, in Nigeria and other parts of the world, women were denied their voting rights. But as of today, that has changed. Women are allowed to vote in many places in the world. We fought for the right to vote, so why cant we fight to end child marriage?

Denying a girl the right to go to school and become educated is simply wrong. A concerted effort to pull that segment of our population that is still stuck in the 15th century out of their archaic mindset is just as essential because education is key. An aggressive approach to improving education, emphasizing universal basic education and providing subsidies for school supplies, particularly in the North, could be key to further eliminating child marriages. We need to encourage girls to participate in programs that offer education, health care and mentoring to them. These services are essential in delaying early marriage.

Nevertheless, improving education in Northern Nigeria is easier said than done because of the sharia law in muslim states. With the growing population, the region has the largest number of school-age children in the world, with a range of socioeconomic and linguistic backgrounds, as well as areas of conflict because of Boko Haram. All of which makes establishing a conducive learning environment a very serious challenge.

In conclusion, I would like to remind everyone that we just celebrated International Women’s Day and this years theme was ‘Make it happen’ while we continue to encourage the theme of ?Make It happen? let’s also encourage my theme for ending child marriage, ?Make It End’. Let’s make it end. Let’s provide access to basic educational needs because educating girls delivers benefits to themselves, their children, their families and to the entire community as a whole. When girls are allowed to be girls and get an education, everybody benefits. We need to change the way parents, extended families and communities view a girl. People need to understand that there are so many values of women over their ability to reproduce and ability to render sexual services.

Source: Christina Ude is currently the Executive Director of Reading Hamlets (www.readinghamlets.org), a non profit organization that’s dedicated to ending the cycle of poverty through literacy.

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