What type of education exists in a place where childhood is stolen from a child and their adulthood is lost in the future?
What type of deluded adult decides that they want a child/children from a child instead of adults like them?
These are questions I keep asking to gain a better understanding of the reasons why the under aged girl child is forced to marry. It is a shame that this has become the “most reasonable” alternative to poverty, social and religious traditions or getting an education on moral and cultural levels in some parts of Nigeria. It’s really saddening to see that a child has to be a product of such an ideology that only benefits the same elders expected to protect their future.
About Child Marriage
Child marriage is defined as a formal marriage or informal union of a child below the age of 18,. This is not a term that only identifies with girls, as there have been a few cases of underaged boys getting married. Notwithstanding, girls are disproportionately the most affected. About a third of women aged 20-24 years old in the developing world were married as children. Child marriage is most common in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, but there are big differences in prevalence among countries of the same region. (UNICEF, Progress for Children, 2010)
Reasons behind Child Marriage
Severe poverty is one of the reasons for child marriage as affirmed by champions of this practice. Children born into unfavourable environments are married off in the belief that a better life will be provided for them in the homes of their older partners, who are richer than the family. Parents of these children decide their daughters’ fate at birth, in the hopes that these children won’t grow up to face the same fate they had faced.
Another reason to this practice is strong social and religious traditions. Their older partners believe in the attainment of higher social levels when members of their social circle can see that they have also attained “pure and unadulterated” wives to their household. The girl child is ripped of any future ideologies she might have or ever conceive. Defenceless girls have to submit to the wants of their older partners – while exposing them to several risks in any areas. Nigeria currently ranks 14th among the 16 African countries with the highest practices of child marriages.
Education is seen as a luxury and as such the girl child gets the end of the rope that doesn’t make the cut while running the race of priority with early marriage. With 70% in the Northwest region, early marriage exposes a lot of children to risks of Domestic Violence and while no one in their environment is well informed against the ills of DV or even considerate to voice of reasoning, the cycle keeps repeating itself and more children end up with fates that even adults cannot handle. This practice is emotionally and morally deadly especially because it concerns children.
Early marriages are also a big obstacle to young girls’ education. In Northern Nigeria, parents deliberately keep their daughters out of school because investing in their education is considered a liability to the parents (UNICEF, Early Marriage: A Harmful traditional Practice, 2005).
Negative Effects on the Child and Society
Young wives often have limited autonomy or freedom of movement. They may be unable to obtain health care because of distance, expenses or the need for permission from a spouse or in-laws. These barriers can aggravate the risks of maternal mortality and morbidity for pregnant adolescents. Married adolescents often face familial and societal expectations to have children as soon as they are married. Even if contraceptive services are available, married adolescent girls may lack the power to use them.
An estimated 14 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth each year. They are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth as women in their 20s. This also shows that the ones that do not die stand at a seriously high risk of contacting sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS, Gonorrhoea and Chlamydia from their much older partners. Another really prominent health issue, mostly at a great peril for underage girls is Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF), a gynaecological problem that occurs when the blood supply to the tissues of the vagina and bladder is restricted during prolonged/obstructed labor. It is common for young girls with bodily immaturity where the pelvis and birth canal are not effusively developed.
Together we can end early marriage. We can learn and teach parents to place value on young girls the same way they do on young boys. The only achieve this is by redefining societal roles where girls are subjected to a certain lifestyle. This is not a battle that can be won by the presence of NGOs in our societies but one that we must put conscious efforts to end.