Nigeria and the specter of Child brides

Kenechukwu Obiezu

Kenechukwu Obiezu

To be a girl in the Giant of Africa is  not a choice anyone makes deliberately. Somehow, it just happens, foisted on people by the forces of biology, way beyond their control. Yet, a lingering suspicion abides, that were many to be given a choice, they may choose otherwise because to put it mildly, to be a girl in Nigeria is no mean feat.

In 2014, Boko Haram stormed a government school for girls in Chibok, Borno State and snatched hundred of girls. More than seven years later, some  of them are yet to be reunited with their families. The girls picked off from Dapchi  some years later were luckier. Yet, in a country where luck is a luxury, an extremely difficult lottery to win, many girls are left behind, at a loss as to why Nigeria is the country they find themselves in.

A report by the United Nations International Children`s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has projected that Nigeria will have 29 million child brides by 2050. According to the report contained in a document titled ‘ Situation Analysis of Children in Nigeria: Ensuring equitable and sustainable  realization of child rights in Nigeria’  recently launched by the Federal Government in conjunction with UNICEF, the current number of  child brides in the country was put at 22  million, representing  40 per cent of such cases in West and Central Africa. The report also warned that by 2050, seven million child brides would be added to the already existing number.

According to the report which referenced the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey(NDHS) 2013, 582 per cent of Nigerian girls were married before attaining the age of 18 years. Still according to the report,  while data between  2013-2017 indicated  that the rate of  child marriage in Nigeria is declining, the rate of decline has remained very slow as Nigeria  ranks among the countries with the  slowest declining rate of child marriage in West and Central Africa.

By the report, the North-west geopolitical zone had the highest proportion of women who married before 15 years or 32.5 per cent, while the South-east recorded the lowest  proportion of women who  married before this age or 4.1 per cent.

However one looks at it, there is work to be done. Loads of it in fact. For many years now, Nigeria has continued to consistently rank as one of the worst countries to be a child in the world. With so many children denied their childhood even before they are old enough to savour it, the country has continued to prove itself one of the world `s largest graveyard for children and their dreams.

But it would appear that even among children in Nigeria many of whom already have a tough row to hoe, there are those – girls – who are already having it worse than others.

It is obvious that in many parts of Nigeria, because there are already preconceived notions about what the girl child should be or the ceilings beyond which she cannot ascend, practices, embedded in customs, traditions, superstitions and even religion have emerged over the years to keep the Nigerian girl child in perpetual slavery.

Our pathetically patriarchal society has so far largely been an experiment in failure and folly, an utterly unworkable   and inequitable arrangement that however remains because its roots are deeply embedded and there is no real courage to shake up things as they are.  It explains why we are a vulnerable society.

Vulnerable children make for vulnerable adults and together they make for vulnerable societies. Vulnerable girls make for vulnerable women and together they also make for a vulnerable society.If girls are protected from birth and given time and space to compete in all spheres of life with boys, it is Nigeria that will be better for it because then a  country of such prodigious gifts would have a better balance, having finely blended its many disparate parts together.

But, no. There are many in the country, especially in the North, who conveniently and aggressively cite religion as having prescribed definite boundaries beyond which girls cannot cross. These people relegate the education of girls to the background, advocate marrying off even babies as brides and generally wave away horrific treatment of girls and women as having some justification that only themselves can see.

Because it is girls that eventually  become women who  form the bedrocks of families and societies, to allow girls to thrive is to set firm foundations in place for societies serious about their development. Without these, no meaningful progress can be made.

If girls in Nigeria are properly educated and are left alone to marry only when they are ready, the conversation about the future of Nigeria can truly begin.

 

 

Kene Obiezu,

keneobiezu@gmail.com

 

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