By Ene Osang
Children are not only regarded as future leaders, but also are potentially the greatest investment for the sustainable development of any country.
However, the condition of Nigerian children is a pitiable one as the protection they need from parents, guardians, the government and society at large is almost unrealistic.
The Nigerian child has been vulnerable to insecurity, poverty, lack of education, poor health, violence both physical and emotional, kidnap and especially penchant for marrying off minors, particularly in the northern part of the country.
Instances of child marriages appear to be on the increase with expectedly enlightened Nigerians, including government officials and legislators.
These girls are denied their childhood and other essentials of life like education, falling in love and marrying a man of their choice.
Many of these child-brides due to the tenderness of their body have been exposed to serious health issues, most common is VVF, which ravages an estimated 12,000 girls yearly according to the Minister of Women Affairs, Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan.
While child marriage is not peculiar to Nigeria, research has shown that Nigeria has the highest number of child brides, with extreme prevalence in the north-east and north-west geo-political zones of the country.
Earlier this year, the campaign to end child marriage in Nigeria was launched, following the African Union (AU) continental launch of the campaign to end child marriage, at its 25th Ordinary Session of Heads of States and Governments held in June, 2015.
African leaders endorsed the African common position on ending child marriage and other harmful traditional practices as recommended in the conclusions of the 4th conference of AU Ministers of Social Development and made a commitment to take practical steps in addressing the issues of child marriage and other harmful traditional practices.
Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo, during the launch in Abuja, directed that official age for marriage should be 18 years even though this directive is yet to be made a law in the country.
Osinbanjo maintained that the federal government would never support any marriage of a minor, condemning in strong terms the increasing rate of child brides, even as he blamed the menace on illiteracy and poverty, he called for an urgent need to tackle this issue, while assuring that FG must take concrete steps to ensure the compulsory education of Nigerian girls.
“There is a positive correlation between child marriage, poverty and Illiteracy. The states with the lowest level of illiteracy have the highest rate of child brides.
“Nigeria has made fairly poor progress in ending child marriage, 24 states out of the 36 states have passed the Child’s Right Act but implementation is yet to be done fully.
“We must persuade all Nigerians to stop this through advocacy and more campaign against it. States without provisions for girl child education should consider this and also enroll girls who dropped out of school due to early marriage,” he said.
Also speaking on the development, Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan, said six million girls were married by the age of 15 in 2015, just as he confirmed that child marriage is extremely prevalent in the north-west and north-east geo-political zone of Nigeria.
According to her, “northern girls have one of the highest rates of early marriage in the world with an estimated 65 per cent of children married off below the age of 18years.
“The detrimental consequences of child marriage on children, women, families, communities and nations at large are evident. There are always high maternal mortality and morbidity, illiteracy, lack of skills, unemployment, low income and wide spread misery among the victims of child marriage especially female victims.”
Speaking on the Islamic position on child marriage, an Associate Professor of Classical Arabic and Modern literature, Dr. Mustapha Hussein, said “It is a misconception of the Islamic religion to give out a child in marriage for the fact that she attained puberty as some Muslims believe.
According to him, “forced marriage is un-Islamic.”
Dr. Hussein called for both Christians and Muslims to join hands in ending child marriage, even as he disclosed that Islam allows inter-religious marriage without husbands compelling their wives to convert to Islam.
Speaking on behalf of the children, Speaker of the Children’s Parliament, Oralgrandour Nweke, appealed to the federal government to declare child marriage a crime and also prosecute parents who give out their children in marriage before the age of18.
Hon. Nweke lamented the fact that a lot of children have dropped out of school due to forceful marriages, adding that a lot of the girls have suffered health issues and as a result ostracised from the community they belong to.
Expectation is that with sustained effort, sensitisation and enlightenment, early marriage would become a thing of the past in the nearest future.