In the appalling arrangement of child marriage across Nigeria and the world, those who marry children are as guilty as those who marry off children in what is a grand but grievous theft.
All those who get involved, including all those who consent either by their silence or compliance are thieves of the worst kind – from girls barely off their mothers’ breast they steal a childhood, a girlhood and more damningly a future.
In the place of innocence, they sow iniquity and from bodies unblemished by the complications of adulthood, they force out anguished lives.
In Nigeria as in many other countries of the world which have failed to marry equity with equality, to be a woman is to fight an endless war.
The marginalization begins from childhood and by the time girlhood arrives and finally adulthood, it metamorphoses into something that is at once malicious and malignant.
In many Nigerian homes, girls are radically taught to live differently from boys not because biology and physiology necessarily dictates so but because as long as society can remember, that is what it has been.
When in April 2022,the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja ordered that 35% of all appointments into public office be reserved for women in keeping with the National Gender Policy, it sounded a defiant rebuke of the status quo in Nigeria.
As expected, President Muhammadu Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress with all their eccentricities have given the judgment a particularly short shrift.
So, in public life, women remain what they are and what they have always been – painfully invisible.
Locked and lurking in shadows, a defiant, dignified and delicate demographic which may just hold the magic wand that would solve Nigeria’s multifaceted problems remains wounded.
It is in those same shadows that something else lurks , something infinitely egregious, something that works the gravest injustice on innocence – child marriage.
A spectre that looms large over the conscience of Nigeria,it remains abominably wrong that girls who are only but children could be sold off as wives to men who are old enough to be their fathers and even their grandfathers.
Of course, it would have been surprising if this has not always pricked the conscience of a country.There have been voices – far too few it must be said- which have railed against the practice but have so far failed to yield the desired results.
It was gratifying then that recently about 473,429 Nigerians signed a petition to end child marriage in the country.
Even more gratifying was the fact that the petitions were coordinated by three teenage girls who have taken it upon themselves to drive change.
The girls, Kudirat Abiola,Susan Ubogu and Temitayo Asuni,while pointing out the lacuna in the existing laws called on President Muhammadu Buhari to ban the practice.
According to UNICEF, Nigeria has the 11th highest percentage of child marriage in the world with 44 per cent of the female population married off before their 18th birthday.
To know that this is the case is simply heartbreaking. Shred of the faces behind the figures,44 per cent may appear to be just manageable or not utterly alarming.
However, in a country where even adults struggle mightily with the demands of marriage as demonstrated by the recent spike in the rate of divorce around the country,the burden marriage imposes on young girls some of whom are yet to reach puberty is simply unimaginable. And for what?
It is difficult to fully understand what continues to drive this practice that is as abominable as it is atrocious.
In a country where society experiments with a lot of reprehensible practices to the point of normalizing them, marrying off children is as odious as it gets.
The justifications are usually quick to jut out. They always either wear religious robes or take on the toga of tradition. Yet, just behind the surface always lies something deeper, something that matches even the deepest of gashes.
It is pedophiles hiding behind prescripts and practices to perpetrate their perversions. It is people without conscience hiding their callousness behind customs.
Nigeria must abolish the practice at all levels and in spite of the opposition which has often proven stiff and spirited.
All around the country, it appears there are in key positions, where policies are polished, men and even women, who want to see that Nigeria remains a country where pre-teen and teenage girls can be married off easily.
Such a country however is a country that is deeply unjust and unequal. Such a country is a country doomed to stagnation.Such a country is a country cursed to repeat the cycles of failure that continue to hold it back.
It is a cycle that must now break.It will take some breaking. It will take legislations, uncommon political will, and massive sensitization.
It will take a lot of work to get people to adopt a new way of thinking, of living and doing things. However,the sacrifices are worth making. For the moment and the immediate future.
Ridding Nigeria of child brides and abolishing a practice that deeply wounds womanhood is necessary if the country is to regain its moral compass and secure the present and future of millions of its girls.