Forced to drop out of school and get married before her 18th birthday, Khadijah is a 12-year-old adolescent from the Northern part of Nigeria. Her greatest anxiety is that she is destined to be a child bride, in a society where her rights are denied and her voice is not heard.
Growing up in the Northern part of Nigeria, I was very conversant with situations like that of Khadijah’s and I have witnessed the devastating challenges of child marriage. Child marriage is a harmful practice that deprives girls of their rights to make decisions about their sexual well-being and worse, exposes them to sexual and gender-based violence. They Are also likely to suffer from health complications such as cervical cancer, HIV/AIDS, obstetric fistulas or even early death.
Like Khadijah, an estimated 44% of Nigerian girls are married before their 18th birthday and the country also records the 11th highest rate of child marriage (UNICEF 2013). Child and forced marriage truncates a girl’s childhood and has lasting social, economic and health effects on the girl and her community. Do you know that 36,000 women in Nigeria die in pregnancy or childbirth each year? (UNFPA Nigeria). This is very sad, I strongly believe that there will be a decline in maternal and child morbidity and mortality if child and forced marriage reduce in Nigeria. However, the statistics cannot reduce on their own, it requires your effort and mine to end child marriage in Nigeria.
Here are 5 ways we can end child marriage in Nigeria:
1) Educate parents on the effects of child marriage
2) Support laws and policies that will eliminate harmful practices and all forms of violence against women and girls
3) Focus approaches to end child marriage on the girls, their families, the community, and the government. There should be culture-centred programs that create awareness of the dangers of child/forced marriage and also educate families and communities on reproductive health services.
4) Include sociocultural and religious leaders in the fight against child marriage.
5) Don’t just make laws to end child marriage, enforce them!
Now, let the world know “That girl is a child, not a bride” #GenerationEquality