A 12-year-old bride, Elham Shuee, died from a rupture of the womb caused by sex, another 12-year-old, Fawziya Abdullah Youssef bled to death during three days of child birth and maybe more recently to catch global attention is the 8-yr old Yemeni child bride who died from internal bleeding due to sex-related trauma on her wedding night. These and more are the realities of some young girls around the world. Western Africa is notable as a hot spot for most child marriages with 49% of child marriages present in these areas. Nigeria stands as having one of the highest amounts of child marriage cases than other countries put together. Developed countries talk about health disparities but in the developing countries such as Nigeria, there is an added acute gender disparity tied with geographical disparity. The gender disparities widens as far north of Nigeria as one goes.
This practice has a lot to do with how a female is viewed in these regions, there is a fostering of male domination in these regions. Girls are seen as a means to an end, trading tools and valued as domestic and reproductive tools. Over 5 million female children of school age in Nigeria are not enrolled in primary or secondary education. This is probably because most of these female children are busy being concerned with marriage procedures orchestrated by their family and relations. In a country where religion and antiquated cultural practices take precedence, it is of most concern how a change can be eminent. The Child Rights Act that presents legal marriage age at 18 is still yet to be enacted by more than half of Nigeria’s 36 states. Notable government officials who support these practices in the Northern region hide behind the Islamic law but does the Quran say that child marriage is acceptable or isn’t it based on human interpretation. A recent raucous started in Nigeria recently over the proposed amendment of the Nigerian constitution that expands the definition of “full age” beyond those of at least 18 years to include any woman who is married, regardless of her age. Senator Yerima, a former governor, came to fight this change stating that a married girl was considered an adult under certain interpretations of Islamic law and that removing the clause is going against Islamic law. Sadly, the senator was backed by numerous other senators and was able to keep the clause in the consitituion. In an interview the senator justifies his stance saying it’s not about age but about maturity. So what is maturity, isnt it beyond the physical appearance but the senator seems to focus more on the physical and menstruation. It’s amazing in his interview how he justifies his stance backed by his interpretation of Islam and citing other non-relevant issues. More appalling is that these practices are not subject to just the educated minds, as some of these older men who are educated, like in Senator Yerima’s case, still indulge in these practices. How is it that an older man, finds it justifiable to look at a young girl, as young as 13 years old and see it fit to marry her and even indulge in sexual intercourse with her. Child marriage is not just violence against women but also a form of child abuse and sexual perversion (pedophilia). If pedophilia has been linked to psychological conditions, could it mean that there is some form of a psychological disorder associated with these older men that take-in a young bride?
These children who get married at an early age have an increased risk of mental, physical and psychological health problems. These young girls are robbed of their youth and exposed to a life of violence, abuse, abortions, unwanted pregnancies, pregnancy complications, STDs (HIV/AIDS) and even death. There is a need for a dialogue involving men and male traditional leaders on child marriage consequences to a young girl. The government really needs to invest in the society, provide jobs and sustainability, so that families do not feel the need to use their daughters as a means for earnings. In Nigeria, based on the UN data, only 6.8% of females are represented on seats at the national parliaments, maybe there is need for more female representation in the government body. I call on religious leaders, community leaders, advocacy groups, traditional leaders, educators, health officials and the general public to join hands in coalition against child marriage practices. Communities need to be sensitized on the importance of sending female children to school. It should be noted that a nation with increased female-child mortality is doomed to be extinct but when you educate and empower a woman, you educate and empower a nation.