“Globally one in every five girls is formally married or in an informal union before reaching the age of 18” – United Nations Population Fund.
It’s a bright and beautiful August summer day on the beach in Miami, Florida. The mild wind blows the hair and dresses of Amina, Sarah and Jasper; three women who are great friends and coincidentally turned forty in July. They decided to come on a girls trip, to get away from their busy schedules in their respective locations. They have known each other all their lives as they all grew up in the same small town in Northern Nigeria.
Amina is the youngest Managing Director of a tier-one Nigerian Bank and sits on the board of several other international organisations across financial services, manufacturing, construction, and educational services. She is equally a mother to two beautiful daughters and a wife to a technology entrepreneur. Sarah holds a doctorate in Electrical and Electronics Engineering and is an Associate professor at a University in the United States of America. Also, she is a celebrated fiction writer and poet with 4 novels and several poems to her credit. Sarah has no interest in starting a family, but however devotes her time and resources to mentoring young women interested in careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Jasper is a vocal politician and member of the Nigerian Senate. She chairs the Senate committee on Women Empowerment, on the back of her prior experience at an international non-governmental organisation, focused on the promotion of female entrepreneurs. Before contesting and winning a seat in the National Assembly, she served as the Head of the West African region of the organisation for five years. She is married to a lawyer and has a daughter and a son.
The women sit and cover their feet with sand. They begin to reminisce on where they came from and how the education and support from their families and friends has gotten them to where they are today. They talk about some of their friends who could not achieve their aspirations, because they were pulled out of school early, because of their families believing that girls should not be educated, as they will become ‘an asset’ to another family once they get married. Some of these friends were married off as early as 12 years old, because their parents believed any investment in them was a waste. Amina particularly reminds the group of their friend Rebecca who was married off at 13 to the newly installed traditional ruler of their town and had to be withdrawn from secondary school at the time. She had her first child at 14 and has had 4 more children after that. Upon the death of the ruler ten years ago, she was left destitute with her children and has since then had to be supported by her friends who send her money on a regular basis for upkeep. Her reliance on them is a consequence of not having the opportunity to be properly educated or acquire any income generating skills.
Contrary to what you read earlier, Amina, Sarah and Jasper are not on a beach in Florida. They are just like Rebecca. They are about to be married off as young girls below the age of 18. The implication is that they are going to stop their education, as well as have their will and agency taken from them. They could have been all and more that was highlighted earlier and be contributing members of the society, if they were given a chance by not being married off as minors and allowed to attain the highest level of education they aspire towards. They are equally faced with potential significant health risks if they get pregnant so early and will struggle to be parents being just children themselves.
According to Save the Children, 2.5 million girls are at risk of marriage by 2025 particularly because of the global health crises – COVID-19 which magnified the existing wealth gap in our society. This represents the greatest surge in child marriage rates in 25 years.
2.5 million is not just a number. 1 in 5 is not just a ratio.
These numbers represent Amina, Sarah, Jasper, Rebecca and many other girls out there with dreams, talents, and aspirations.
The Good News
We can gradually turn the tide in many ways. Some of the options include.
- By not engaging in or facilitating child marriage.
- By speaking against it when we see it around us.
- By pressuring those in elected political offices to ensure laws exist to protect the girl child as well as enforce these laws.
- By supporting organisations involved in the fight to end child marriage with your time and other resources.
- By not reading this alone but sharing with family, friends, and colleagues.
Remember, Every Child is Your Child!