Child marriage is still a reality for millions of girls across Africa. The African continent is home to 15 out of the 20 countries with the world’s highest rates of child marriage. Worldwide, approximately 15 million girls every year are married before they reach the age of 18. Child marriage jeopardizes efforts to improve maternal and infant health and has devastating consequences for the girl, her family, and her future children. Child brides face higher risk of death and injury in pregnancy and childbirth, with girls under 15 being five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. Their children are at risk too: when a mother is under 20 her baby is less likely live beyond its first birthday.
As we mark the 2015 Day of the African Child, it is important that we put an end to child marriage in Nigeria. Still in her formative years, a little girl is relocated upon marriage to an entirely new environment and, more likely, to a much older man. With such wide age disparity and possibly hostile co-wives, compounded with the overwhelming responsibilities of marriage and motherhood that she is ill-prepared for, the life of such girl is put in danger. Deprived of education, skills and the capacity for self-sufficiency, the child bride suffers physical, mental and emotional trauma.
The child bride is condemned to a life of diminished opportunities, without the hope of ever acquiring the self-esteem or confidence to negotiate critical decisions relating to her own life. These sundry challenges merely serve to entrench and exacerbate poverty, as the woman is rendered incapable of rising above her abject circumstances. Indeed, not being in a position to appreciate the value of education, the chances of her children improving themselves through formal structures are even slimmer.
There can be no better illustration for the campaign to delay marriage, at least until the girl is educated, mature and sufficiently prepared for such an exacting institution.
Given the scale and complexity of child marriage, this practice cannot be ended by politicians alone. All actors, from lawmakers and community leaders, to the media and civil society actors and the girls themselves, have a role to play in making child marriage history.
You can visit www.girlsnotbrides.org to join the movement or retweet #EndChildMarriageNOW!