By Tobias Lengnan Dapam

A report launched yesterday in Abuja by Save the Children revealed that a
staggering 78% of girls in the northern region of Nigeria are married before the age of 18, a new report

In Nigeria as a whole, the report said 44% of girls are married before their 18th birthday and the country records as one of the highest rates of child marriage globally.

The “State of the Nigerian Girl Report – An Incisive Diagnosis of Child Marriage” explains the current and prevailing socio-cultural norms and practices in Nigeria around child marriage to capture the approximate state of Nigerian girls. It shows that child marriage is more prevalent in the northwest and northeast of Nigeria, where 48% of girls were married by age15 and 78% were married by age18.

The report brings to the fore the dire state of the Nigerian girl child at the national level, its negative impact on education and empowerment, evidence-based gaps in socio-cultural beliefs and systems, and provides recommendations for moving forward to addressing these gaps in child marriage in Nigeria.

According to the report, the percentage of people aged 20-49 years who were first married or in union before age 18 for women was 44.1% while men accounted for 6%.

“The percentage of young people aged 15-19 years who are currently married or in a union for women was 22.2% while no man was in such a union. The percentage of people from 15-49 years who are in a polygynous union for women was 36.9% while men accounted for 18.7%. This is proof that Early Child Marriage affects quite a large number of women and girls.

“Evidence shows there is a clear and strong link between Child Early Forced Marriage (CEFM) prevalence and endemic poverty, poor education outcomes, school dropout rates, a high rate of out-of-school children, and poor access to basic social, economic and healthcare services. Despite the Compulsory Free and Universal Basic Education Act of 2004, lack of access to quality, free, safe, uninterrupted and inclusive education for girls remains a big driver of child marriage”, the report said.

Purity Oriaifo, Save the Children International Nigeria’s Girl Champion said “If a girl is out of school, the likelihood of getting married at an early age is very high. When a girl is married young, she is robbed of her childhood and opportunities to realize her full potential. She has an increased risk of poor health outcomes, having children at a younger age, dropping out of school, experiencing ongoing violence in the home, being restricted in her mobility, left with limited decision-making ability, and earning less over her lifetime”.

Various cultural, traditional and social practices encourage gender-discriminatory norms against girls and women. Negative social norms condition parents and girls to accept child marriage as a normal way of life to come out of poverty. For instance, across Nigeria, sons-in-law expect to accept the siblings of their bride as members of his new household for economic maintenance and upbringing. Cash and other gifts for fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law are regularly expected from the son-in-law, the report discovers.

Maryam Ahmed, Save the Children International Nigeria’s Youth Ambassador says “Children especially the girls are among the most affected by poverty in Nigeria. Childhood poverty affects their capacity to attain full potential. Child marriage is widely considered as a way out of poverty. Families of the poor and vulnerable must be provided with social safety nets to support education of the girl-child. It is one of the most effective ways to lift up the girl child out of poverty. Social protection services, livelihoods and economic independence contributes to delay early child and forced marriage.”

“Child Early Forced Marriage is a human rights violation and a form of gender-based violence (GBV) that robs children of their ability to make decisions about their lives, disrupts their education, subject them to become more vulnerable to violence and discrimination, and prevents their full participation in economic, political, and social spheres,” says, Mercy Gichuhi, Country Director, Save the Children International Nigeria.

The report also discloses that:
In Borno State, 89.13% of women aged between 15 and 49 were first married before age 15. 59% of them had no education whatsoever; 42% had some level of primary school education and 100% had no secondary school education. Among women who are in a marital relationship or union, 46% have spouses who are older by 10 years or more.

In Jigawa State, 78% of women, aged 20-49 were first married before age 18. 25% of women aged 15-19 are presently married or in a union and 63% of women dropped out of school to marry. Only 8% of women who married before age 18 are gainfully employed and earn above the NBS 2020 national poverty line. 65% of fathers, mothers and mothers-in-law approve of CEFM.

Save the Children called for the provision and the full implementation of policies and strategies to end child marriage.

“Therefore, the government at all levels should prioritize the passage into law of the Child Rights Act (2003). This will provide children with the necessary legal policy framework for seeking justice when their rights are denied or abused.”

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