Every girl has dreams about her wedding day. After all, it is supposed to be one of the most important days of her life. But somehow it is doubtful that somewhere in that dream any girl imagines she would still be an actual child on that day. Yet that is the reality for many child brides in many different parts of the world Despite many countries in Africa enacting marriageable age laws to limit marriage to a minimum age of 16 or 18 depending on the jurisdiction, underage marriages are still very common. Poverty, religion, tradition and conflict make the incidence of child marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa wide spread.
In many tribal systems, a man pays a bride price to a girl’s family in order to marry her. Sadly in many parts of Africa, this payment decreases as the girl gets older. Even before puberty, it is common for a married girl to leave her parents to be with her husband. Many child marriages are poverty related with the parents of the girl needing the bride price to feed, clothe, educate and house the rest of the family. This automatically puts a halt to the girl’s education and exposes her to diverse health problems.
In Nigeria, like other African countries, traditional customs, deep-rooted cultural mores and religious beliefs tend to compete with and in many cases overshadow the common laws and statutory laws with regard to some issues. Issues relating to women are mostly affected resulting in incidences such as child marriage. Child marriage was a common form of marriage in Nigeria, which unfortunately, is still practiced in some rural communities especially in the Hausa culture in the northern states of Nigeria. Under this practice a girl from birth was betrothed to a man to whom she will be formally married to between the ages of eight and ten .
The issue of choice of partner for the girl-child is the duty of the family members or the father who takes into consideration different factors in making a choice. The choice is based on such considerations as social, religious, monetary or economic reasons. Poverty and economic transactions are critical factors contributing to child marriages and a common reason why parents may encourage a child to marry. Where poverty is acute, a young girl may be regarded as an economic burden and her marriage to a much older man. Sometimes even elderly man is believed to benefit the child and her family both financially and socially.
In communities where child marriage is practiced, marriage is regarded as a transaction, often representing a significant economic activity for a family. A daughter may be the commodity a family has left to be traded and sometimes girls can be used as currency or to settle debts. In Africa, the monetary value of bride price, or bride wealth, a sum, either in cash or kind, used to purchase a bride for her labour and facility, is linked with marriage. In the context of poverty, the practice of paying bride price can encourage early marriage.
Young girls, a resource with which their parents can attain greater wealth, are married off at young age for the bride price and also as a way for parents to lessen their economic burdens. Age of the prospective husband is not a factor, as in many of the cases the husband chosen is quite older than the girl. CULTURE The customary law of a community embraces all the beliefs, religion and social institutions of the said community. The various cultures in Africa are generally rich, unique, humane and make for bonding in the family, and customary marriage is one of such cultures.
There are however in built in some cultural institutions, practices that are rather repugnant to the objective mind. While customary marriage remains unique in itself because of the bonding of the bride and groom’s families, the capacity to contract a customary law marriage in Nigeria seems to have no limits with respect to marriageable age. Majority of the cultures in Nigeria are patrilineal (children inheriting through the lineage of their father) but a few cultures like the Ohafia, in Abia State and the Eda communities of Ebonyi State all in the South East are matrilineal (inheriting from their mothers).
It is important however to note that whether a community ismatrilineal or patrilineal, patriarchy is always enthroned during customarymarriage ceremonies almost to the exclusion of the bride and her mother. Customary law condones child marriage as it pegs the minimum age of marriage at puberty Child marriage is a product of cultures that devalue women and girls and discriminate against them. Poor families are tempted to sell their girls not just into marriage but into prostitution, as the transaction enables large sums of money to exchange hands.
Some families sell their children into marriage either to settle debts or to make some money and escape the cycle of poverty . In certain cultures, marrying a girl young presumes that the girl’s sexuality, therefore the family’s honour will be protected by ensuring that the girl marries as a virgin . Some parents of child brides use marriage as a way to provide for their daughter’s future while some use it to settle disputes . Also in some cultures, it is encouraged to increase the number of pregnancies and ensure enough children survive into adulthood to work on family land and support elderly relatives .
In South Asia, some families marry off all their daughters at the same time to reduce the cost of their wedding ceremony. Some cultures believe that if girls receive education, they will be less willing to fulfil their traditional roles as wife and mother while some people in Ethiopia’s Amhara region believe that menstruation is induced by intercourse . In some cultures, the girl child is considered a medium of commercial exchange. She is not allowed to catch a glimpse of the four walls of a school, less nursing a future aspiration.
On the contrary, once her parents observe the slightest tinge of adolescence in her, she would be auctioned out to an elderly man in exchange for financial returns. Many child brides are products of broken homes or are just unfortunate to be the off springs of ignorant and greedy parents. A sense of social insecurity has been a cause of child marriages across the world. For example in Nepal, parents fear likely stigma of grown up girls (past 18 years) stay at home unmarried . In India, thousands of girls some as young as 6 months old will be married to older boys in controversial ceremonies across the North India state of Rajasthan.
The weddings are an annual event part of the festival of Akhal Teej. All over Idia, this is considered an auspicious day for marriage, but only in Rajasthan is there such a large number of weddings involving children. The India authorities though have banned the practice and even raided wedding parties in an effort to stop the marriages, this move is proving unsuccessful as rural poverty puts pressure on families to transfer the economic cost of a daughter to another family as soon as possible . In medieval times, cultural pressures within Jewish communities lead to most girls being married while they were still children.
Boys too were under cultural pressure. Several Talmudic rabbis urged that boys should be married as soon as they reached the age of majority. Indeed anyone unmarried after the age of twenty was said to have been cursed by God. RELIGION Child marriages are also driven by religious pressures. No one religious affiliation was associated with child marriage according to a 2007 ICRW study . However, UNICEF reports that the top five nations in the world with highest observed child marriages are Islamic majority countries . Within the Islamic faith, the teachings of Mohammed are so sacred that much behaviour is regularly condoned.
Because Mohammed stated that it was acceptable for a girl under the age of 9 to be married, this practice continues even today. The Koran teaches that girls can be married when they are able to conceive. This has led to the widespread of this barbaric crime and belief. These often prepubescent girls will be married to distant relatives belonging to the same clan . The grooms are often 3 to 4 times older than the girls who are one day playing their toys and friends and the next having sex with a forty year old man and are expected to start cooking and cleaning the house.
It is believed that when the girl is married, her husband is under God and he should be obeyed no matter what. According to Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima, in Islam, a girl can marry once she starts menstruation. He said once a girl starts menstruation she is of full age and can be married . This same view is shared by Professor Ishaq Akinola, the Executive Director of Muslim Rights Concern. In his opinion, there is no age restriction in Islamic marriage. According to him, the conditions of marriage in Islam are four i.e proposition and acceptance; approval by both parents; payment of dowry by the groom and presence of at least two male witnesses at the ceremony .
Age is therefore not part of the conditions that must be met before marriage can be solemnized in Islam. Within the faith, the teachings of Prophet Mohammed are so sacred that many behaviours are regularly condoned and because Mohammed stated that it was acceptable for the girls of about age 9 to get married, this practice continues even today. The Koran teaches that girls can be married when they are able to conceive. This has led to the wide spread of this criminal act and belief.
However, where the bride is a minor, Islam prescribes protective solemnization of marriage without consummation. This means that the girl who is deemed to be of tender age is left untouched by the man until she attains puberty. It is believed that honourable and dignifying child marriage is better than child prostitution . Mohammed Istefani, Chairman of the Iran’s Legal Affairs Committee stated thus : ‘ we must regard 9 as being the appropriate age for a girl to have reached puberty and qualified to get married. To do otherwise would be to contradict and challenge Islamic Sharia law.
Afterall, according to Islamic scriptures, the Prophet Mohammed married a 6 years old bride with whom he consummated the marriage when she was only 9 years old” In Malaysia, Muslim girls are allowed with parental permission to marry at 12, even though the legal minimum age for non Muslim girls are allowed with parental permission to marry at age 12 even though the legal minimum age for non-Muslim bodies in such cases is 16years. Nazir Azeez, the Malaysian Minister responsible for legal affairs said that the government had no plans to amend the law regarding the minimum age of marriage because it concerns Islamic law .
There is however some hope of ending this practice. In Yemen which is a more progressive Islamic country, a law was passed banning child marriages . The BBC reported on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 that hundreds of women rallied outside parliament in Yemen to show support of this new law. Islamic clerics have nonetheless condemned the law and warned that anyone following it would be traitors . Sharia is not the only kind of religious law that permits child marriage. Until 1929, Church of England ministers could marry 12 years old in Britain and until 1983, a quiet loophole in Catholic cannon law permitted priests to marry off brides of 12 as well.
Now, the minimum age allowed by the Vatican for young girls to marry is 14 years. In Judaism, child marriage was restricted to female children. The earliest point at which a male is permitted to become betrothed is when he reaches the age of majority i. e 13years. According to Talmud, it was permissible for an adult male to marry a girl as young as 3 years old. Also, if a woman becomes pregnant, she was considered to be of full age regardless of any other consideration . POLITICS One of the major factors that make child marriage to thrive in Nigeria is politics.
In 2003, the National Assembly passed the Child Rights Act which is unambiguous in its provisions and it’s intended to clear the confusion arising from the profusion of laws relating to minimum age at which a person can be married in Nigeria. The said Act also criminalises child marriage and betrothal. However, the Child Rights Act, does not automatically apply across Nigeria. It has to be domesticated on a state by state level through adoption by state House of Assemblies. However, since the law was passed at the federal Level about 12 states are yet to adopt it.
Our politicians use religion as a political tool to satisfy their obnoxious desires. Every girl child in Nigeria has a right to good health care, security of life, education, etc and any politics that fails to protect those rights of the girl child has failed to carry out the basic duties and responsibilities to that child in the society. Our democracy does not provide the necessary support to make a girl-child grow into maturity at a particular age, therefore making these children vulnerable to religious and cultural pressure. CONSEQUENCES OF CHILD MARRIAGE
Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs the children especially the female genders their education, health and long term prospects and potentials. HEALTH IMPLICATION Professor of Endocrinology, Oladapo Ashiru warns that a pregnant teenager has a higher risk of premature labour and/or delivery anaemia, pre-enclampsia and having a baby with a low birth weight. It is also said by Dr Adebayo Kayode , a gynaecologist and obstetrician at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital that death rate from pregnancy complications is a lot higher for girls who are pregnant below the age of 15 than among older teenagers.
Paediatrician and Public Health specialist with St. Ives Hospitals, Lagos Dr Rotimi Adesanya , also warns that it is not just the health of the teen mom that takes plunge but that of the baby too. According to him, about nine percent of teenage mothers are two to six times more likely to have low birth weight babies than those born to moms of age 20 or older, which can result in serious medical problems for the baby, including under developed organs leading to lung problems such as respiratory distress syndrome or bleeding in the brain, vision impairment, intestinal and other problems.
Doctor Ashiru also opines that the younger a mother is, the greater the risk of her infant dying during the first year of life compared to those whose mothers are older and are more likely to suffer from poor nutrition. According to the United Nations, child-mothers are the worst victims of Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF) . For Doctor Ejike Orji , a gynaecologist and obstetrician and women’s rights activist, the VVF is a common health problem in the Northern part of Nigeria as almost 70 to 80 percent of women suffering from VVF are girls below the age of 18 years.
He added that teenage girls with VVF could be counted fortunate to have survived the ordeal of child birth as VVF patients are actually the ones that survived the rupturing of their uterus. As the uterus ruptures, the girl child and the baby may die. He is also of the view that VVF is a symptom of a bigger problem. What this means is that the girl child will be draining urine as a result of the pressure between the bladder and the vagina, as such, there will be nothing to stop the urine from flowing freely.
Child brides may also suffer vulnerability to HIV/AIDS . Being young and a female in Africa is a major risk factor for infection and young girls are being infected at a considerably disproportional rate to that of boys. Whilst early marriages are sometimes seen by parents as a mechanism for protecting their daughters from HIV/AIDS, future husbands may already be infected from previous sexual encounters; a risk which is particularly acute for girls with older husbands.
The age disparity between a child bride and her husband in addition to a low economic autonomy further increases a girl’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. It exacerbates the abilities of girls and women to make and negotiate sexual decisions, including whether or not to engage in sexual activity, issues relating to the use of contraceptives and condoms for protecting against HIV infection and also their ability to demand fidelity from their husbands.
Studies have also shown clear link between Female Genital Mutilation and child marriages. Female Genital Mutilation sometimes referred to as Female circumcision refers to procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non- medical reasons. The procedure is carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15, most commonly before puberty starts . The procedure is traditionally carried out by a woman with no medical training .
Anaesthetics and antiseptic treatments are not generally used and the practice is usually carried out using knives, scissors, and pieces of glass or razor blades. Girls may have to be forcibly restrained. The different forms of Female Genital Mutilation are removing part or all of the clitoris; removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia ( lips that surround the vagina), with or without removal of the labia majora ( larger outer lips); narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia .
Communities who practice Female Genital Mutilation are also more likely to practice child marriages and in some of these communities, female genital mutilations are carried out at puberty and then marriages are arranged immediately after. It is also common in these communities for a man to refuse to marry a girl or woman who has not undergone the procedure or to demand that it be carried out before marriage. EDUCATIONAL IMPLICATION
Child brides usually drop out of school and are denied the opportunity to complete their education, significantly reducing their ability to earn an income and lift themselves and their children out of poverty. Conversely, if girls are able to stay in school, and avoid early marriage, the benefits are widely felt. Educated girls are more likely to understand and advocate for their rights and they are more likely to raise healthy and educated children. Girls who marry young are often expected to take on some responsibilities at home that are prioritized over attending school.
A lack of education limits girls’ choices and opportunities throughout their lives, not just when they are children. The consequences of early marriage reach beyond the lives of young married girls themselves to the next generation. Children of young uneducated mothers are less likely to have a good start to their own education, to do well in class, or to continue beyond minimum schooling. The daughters of uneducated mothers are especially likely to drop out of school, marry young and begin the cycle again.
In some communities, investing in girls’ education is perceived as a waste of resources since families believe that a girl’s education will only benefit her husband’s household and not the family of origin. It is believed that a boy returns honour while a girl is expected to leave home to marry and bring bride wealth. SOCIAL IMPLICATION Young girls in a child marriage are more likely to experience domestic violence in their marriages as opposed to older women.
A study conducted in India by the International Centre for Research on Women showed that girls married before 18 years of age are twice as likely to be beaten, slapped or threatened by their husbands and 3 times more likely to experience sexual violence. Young brides often show symptoms of sexual abuse and post- traumatic stress . Studies also indicate that women who marry at young age are more likely to believe that it is sometimes acceptable for a husband to beat his wife and are therefore more likely to experience violence.
Abuse is sometimes perpetrated by the husband’s family as well as the husband himself, and girls that enter families as a bride often become domestic slaves for the in- laws . One fundamental difficulty of child marriage is that girls are financially dependent on their husbands and therefore lack power to make demands upon them e. g asking their husbands to get an HIV test or insisting that their husbands be monogamous and ultimately they cannot leave the marriage because they cannot repay their dowry .
It is a huge responsibility for a young girl to become a wife and a mother and because girls are not adequately prepared for these roles, this heavy burden has a serious impact on their psychological welfare, their perceptions of themselves and also their relationship. A typical example of child marriage, its causes and implication is reported in the Guardian Newspaper of July 28, 2013 at page 21 where a young vibrant girl of 13 years who had planned to further her education in the university and eventually settle down with the man of her dream.
She believed her parents had the same plan for her considering that she was their only child. But little did she know that fate had another plan for her. One night after supper, she was called to her father’s chambers where an elderly man of 54 years was introduced as her husband. Without much ado, she refused the offer. She was however shocked beyond words when a date for the wedding was announced. Her dreams, hopes and love died that night. Many months after the wedding, she became pregnant. It wasn’t easy but as a strong headed child, she was determined to pull through.
The day of delivery came and she discovered that strength had nothing to do with it. Despite the screaming and pushing, the baby refused to come out, but when it finally did, it was discovered that the mother’s bladder was affected because at her age, she was still too tender to undergo the rigours of childbirth. When told of the situation, her husband was devastated. He left the hospital and never returned. Left to face the situation alone, she and her parents did not know what to do. The reality stared them in the face. She had been affected for life.