As children in Nigeria remain vulnerable to abuses, a Civil Society Organisation, Save the Children International, SCI, through its report launched on Thursday, disclosed that 44 per cent of girls in Nigeria are married off before attaining their 18th birthday.
According to SCI in the report tagged ‘State of the Nigerian Girl Report – An Incisive Diagnosis of Child Marriage’ pointed that Nigeria records as one of the highest rate of child marriages globally.
Also, the report indicated that 78 per cent of girls in the northern region of Nigeria marry before the age of 18, while child marriage is more prevalent in the North West and North East regions of Nigeria, where 48 per cent of girls were married by age 15 and 78 per cent were married by age 18.
The report brings to the fore the dire state of the Nigerian girl child at the national level, its negative impact on education and empowerment, evidence-based gaps in socio-cultural beliefs and systems, and provides recommendations for moving forward to addressing these gaps in child marriage in Nigeria.
According to the report, the percentage of people aged 20-49 years who were first married or in union before age 18 for women was 44.1 per cent while men accounted for 6%. The percentage of young people aged 15-19 years who are currently married or in a union for women was 22.2 per cent while no man was in such a union.
The percentage of people from 15-49 years who are in a polygynous union for women was 36.9% while men accounted for 18.7 per cent. This is proof that Early Child Marriage affects quite a large number of women and girls.
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The report reads in part, “In Borno State, 89.13 per cent of women aged between 15 and 49 were first married before age 15. 59 per cent of them had no education whatsoever; 42% had some level of primary school education and 100 per cent had no secondary school education. Among women who are in a marital relationship or union, 46 per cent have spouses who are older by 10 years or more.
“In Jigawa State, 78 per cent of women, aged 20-49 were first married before age 18. 25 per cent of women aged 15-19 are presently married or in a union and 63 per cent of women dropped out of school to marry.
Only eight per cent of women who married before age 18 are gainfully employed and earn above the NBS 2020 national poverty line. 65 per cent of fathers, mothers and mothers-in-law approve of CEFM.”
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The report indicated that there is evidence of clear and strong link between Child Early Forced Marriage (CEFM) prevalence and endemic poverty, poor education outcomes, school dropout rates, a high rate of out-of-school children, and poor access to basic social, economic and healthcare services.
Despite the Compulsory Free and Universal Basic Education Act of 2004, lack of access to quality, free, safe, uninterrupted and inclusive education for girls remains a big driver of child marriage.
The Country Director, Save the Children International Nigeria, Mercy Gichuhi, said, “Child Early Forced Marriage is a human rights violation and a form of gender-based violence, GBV, that robs children of their ability to make decisions about their lives, disrupts their education, subject them to become more vulnerable to violence and discrimination, and prevents their full participation in economic, political, and social spheres.”
The keynote speaker, Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, disclosed that she practically begged the Governor of Katsina State, Hon Bello Masari, including the Speaker of the Katsina State House of Assembly to pass the Child Rights Act.
“Today is a success story that Katsina has passed the Child Rights Act. The same story goes with Bauchi, Gombe, Yobe, and we hope Jigawa and all the others will soon pass it. These girls need help they are our future mothers, wives, and leaders of our country.
“We cannot have babies becoming mothers, and the situation is unacceptable and is a crime to humanity. As we launch the report ‘Towards Ending Early Marriage’ this occasion is most appropriate in view of the challenges girls facing”, Tallen stated.
She also called on traditional and religious leaders to lead in the fight against child marriage, because they are key actors in the fight, and that to tackle the menace is to address poverty, attain zero hunger, empowerment, and access to education.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, in a goodwill message said child marriage in Nigeria remains illegal.
“Nigerian government is trying hard to stamp out early marriage with the enactment of the Child Rights Act 2003.
“Giving out children for marriage is pathetic. I wish to make it clear that child marriage is illegal in Nigeria. The value of educated child is to serve the people, and it is required in all countries for national development.
“This is a clear need for more enlightenment for better appreciation for protection of the girl-child as individuals and citizens or values that the society or country can also lose by giving away that potential and that value is lost”, Ehanire stated.
The Communication for Development Consultant, UNICEF, Ibrahim Abdulkarim, in a goodwill message said Nigeria loses $8.9bn annually as a result of child abuse including child marriage.
“Child Rights is a key driver of challenges in the country, especially within the North which has prevalence of child marriages which lead to high maternal-infant mortality, malnutrition, and among others.
“When it comes to violence against children in Nigeria, when you look at economic burden, Nigeria is losing $8.9 billion a year as a result of violence against children including issue on child marriage”, Abdulkarim said.
He also said since UNICEF has been working the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and constituent ministries in the states they invest in prevention rather than it becomes too late when it is time to respond.
He added that in solving this problem they are supporting effort of government in many ways, and also wants government to support effort of UNICEF on having a new document that would stop child marriage, and said the time to act on protecting children is now.
Also, the Speaker of the Children’s Parliament, Hon. Maisara Abdul-Khadir Abbas, called for protection of the girl-child, describing her as the foundation of better and stronger Nigeria.
“The secret we are all dreaming today is that Nigeria will be a great country is from the scratch, the foundation is this by making sure the girls are protected against violence”, Abbas said.
Meanwhile, the Consultant who led the research, Augustine Mamedu, explained how the report was put together, which interviews were conducted at the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, and to Ministries of Women Affairs of 12 focal States cutting across the six geopolitical zones including girls.
“The shocking finding was the zero budget both at the federal level in some states ending child marriage, and this is topical in the sense that Ministries, Departments and Agencies are currently defending their budgets before the National Assembly.
“The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, when they go to defend their budget may be to go with some of these children that are here to speak directly eyeball-to-eyeball with their senators and representatives. We need money to deal with these issues.
“The programme to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 even though we succeed we have succeeded in marrying away 100 million girls we are going to have the next zero level of success. In other words you lift out 100 million Nigerians and you still throwback 100 million Nigerians to that pit of poverty”, he said.
According to him the highest prevalence of child marriage in Nigeria is in Borno and Yobe States, followed by North West and North Central geopolitical zones, then the South West, followed by South-South, with South East having the lowest prevalence rate.
“In South East, child marriage is regarded as a taboo and is kudos to them. This prevalence of child marriage is on poverty. The poorest states have the highest prevalence of child marriage”, he said.
Save the Children International Nigeria’s Girl Champion, Purity Oriaifo, said, “If a girl is out of school, the likelihood of getting married at an early age is very high. When a girl is married young, she is robbed of her childhood and opportunities to realize her full potential.
“She has an increased risk of poor health outcomes, having children at a younger age, dropping out of school, experiencing ongoing violence in the home, being restricted in her mobility, left with limited decision-making ability, and earning less over her lifetime.
Save the Children International calls for the provision and the full implementation of policies and strategies to end child marriage.
“Therefore, the government at all levels should prioritize the passage into law of the Child Rights Act (2003). This will provide children with the necessary legal policy framework for seeking justice when their rights are denied or abused”, it added.