As a little girl, I fervently wanted to be a lawyer. But as is usual in the world we live in today, my plans changed.
Going to school enlightened me on various issues; for one, we were taught that the rule of law signifies the supremacy of the law over the government and the governed, and I’m left to wonder how this knowledge has helped us.
Child marriage, which has been defined by global organizations as a formal marriage or informal union entered into by an individual before reaching eighteen, is one of the major but subtle problems rocking this part of the world.
In Nigeria, according to the UNICEF, the Child Right Act, to domesticate the Convention on the Rights of the Child, was adopted in 2003. In order for this act to be effective, it had to be enacted by state assemblies. And of the thirty-six states of the federation, only sixteen states have passed the Act.
A while ago, the world ceremoniously celebrated the International Day of The Girl Child. Thus, it was quite heart-breaking when, a few days later, I read in the newspaper, that a girl of about fourteen years of age was given out in marriage.
The said girl was reported to have “given her consent” to the union.
According to the UNFPA, every two seconds, a child is forced into marriage, one in three girls is married before reaching eighteen, and one in nine girls is married under age fifteen. It is generally acclaimed that a person who is below eighteen years of age is a child, so under what grounds is this ‘child’ liable to give her consent to something as serious and life changing as marriage?
What makes it right to destroy a child’s life before it even begins?
What right have we to dash their hopes and dreams just because of whatever selfish reasons we may have?
Morally, I see this as being totally wrong. Apart from the fact that this is a rather barbaric trend, the perpetrators of this, more often than not, do not give their own children out as scapegoats for the practise.
Medical repercussions are rampant too, though not limited to Vesico-Vaginal Fistula, which is not only a medical disorder, but a social calamity. According to the journal Pediatrics, researchers found out that girls under eighteen who get married are more likely to experience mental health problems, which include depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders. They are also more likely to become dependent on drugs, alcohol and nicotine.
Dr. Yann Le Strat stated during his interview with The Huffington Post that, “With a 41 per cent increased risk of mental disorder, child marriage should be considered a major psychological trauma.”
Research also shows that Nigeria has the highest rate of VVF in the world, with about twelve thousand cases annually. There is a mortal danger for the child, and the child’s child, should pregnancy occur.
One of the reasons for this scourge is the objectification of females, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is painful to know that almost all cases of early marriage have the consent and moral backing of the parents. In some cultures, female children are seen as being subservient, as inferior creatures, as pieces of property to be sold to the highest bidder. When parents are properly educated on the dangers of this practise, there will be a drastic reduction, if not a total eradication, of the menace. Parents should be made to understand that child marriage is in violation of one of the major rights of the child, and the danger the child faces as a result. The girl child is so much more than what she is made out to be.
So many human rights activists have taken up the chant, ‘Child, not Bride’ all in an effort to sensitize the populace on the dangers of this practice.
Child marriage is a cankerworm that has eaten deep into the fabric of our society. It needs to be exterminated with immediacy.
We should nurture our children. We should cherish our children, and we should be conscientious in all our dealings.
Child marriage is a scourge that needs to be swiftly eradicated. The numbers are dazzling. Should we go on jeopardizing the lives of our future leaders?
This is a clarion call to people of all works of life, especially those in the tops echelons of power, that we should put an end to this. It is not beyond us.
Yes, we can!