This is part two of my interview with Armstrong Ukwuoma Esq. Legal Practitioner in Nigeria. Catch part one of my interview here.
What are the dangers associated with child marriage or early marriage?
The dangers associated with child/early marriage are multi-dimensional:
Health wise, child marriage introduces underage girls to early and increased sexual activities and this exposes them to cervical cancer and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) like Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), HIV/AIDS etc. Early pregnancy and early childbearing which are inextricably linked with child marriage are risk factors to prolonged obstructed labour which is the major cause of Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) and/or Recto-Vaginal Fistula (RVF). Still births, low birth weight, poor maternal, neonatal and infant health and increased infant and maternal mortality are also among the leading dangers of child marriage.
In the area of social life and girl-child education, child marriage retards the socialization/social development of the girl-child. It is a major contributor to low girl-child enrolment in schools and high rate of girls’ drop out from school. Child marriage directly opposes girl’s right to education.
From human rights angles, child marriage contravenes virtually every known fundamental rights of the girl-child. It violates the victims’ right to human dignity, health, especially reproductive health, personal liberty, peaceful assembly and association, freedom from discrimination, private and family life, free consent to marriage etc.
To the nation, child marriage is counter-productive to the laws, policies, articulations, goals, efforts and commitments for human capital and social advancement for overall national development.
What do you think need to happen to end this harmful practice in Nigeria?
A lot, quite a whole lot, needs to happen for us to sincerely end child marriage in Nigeria –
First, we as Nigerian people and government must first of all sincerely resolve to protect the Nigerian underage female citizens against child marriage as a form of child abuse. The government and people of Nigeria should understand that child marriage is a very harmful practice and that it provides a convenient environment through which the fundamental human rights of the victims are violated and as such, the practice of child marriage should no longer be left to individual choices and idiosyncrasies or as a mere cultural or religious practice that do not require national action.
The Nigerian government and indeed, all educated, enlightened and informed Nigerians should take it as a responsibility to expose child marriage as personal preferences of those who engage in child sexual exploitation and other forms of child exploitation and that child marriage is not one of those sacred religious rites which a State is not expected to stop.
The Nigerian government should, in statistical/data terms; expose the loss incurred by the nation through child marriage- vis-à-vis the burdens of VVF/RVF; infant and maternal deaths, loss of educational opportunities and other opportunities for human capital development etc.
Marriage to a person of less than 18 years should be constitutionally prohibited. Doing so will enhance the enjoyment of the constitutionally secured fundamental human rights which are violated through child marriage.
While constitutional steps are taken to prohibit child marriage, existing laws against child marriage must be enforced.
Since ignorance, even among the educated ones has continued to enslave the people to continue the practice of child marriage, there should be intensive, consistent, committed public enlightenment on child marriage at the forefront of all actions aimed at ending child marriage. This serves as a very strategic proactive approach towards social policing in ending child marriage.
Girl-child education must be given priority attention. State governments should take advantage of the Compulsory, Free, Universal Basic Education programme of the federal government to send their children to school and this will help to discourage child marriage.
There should be in place, a National Policy and Strategic Framework on the Eradication of Child Marriage. Such Policy and Strategic Framework should be sincerely implemented.
The media should be properly, effectively and fearlessly utilized to expose child marriage. The actual victims or potential victims should be encouraged to cry out loud against the practice.
Her Excellencies, the First Ladies in Nigeria, and all educated women, particularly those informed women from those Nigerian states and communities where child marriage is practiced should be bold enough to speak against the practice and take it as a duty to sensitize and enlighten their people to end the practice.
The National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria, the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, the National Orientation Agency; and Organized Professional and Civil Society Organizations, like, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), the Human Rights Committees of the Nigerian Bar Association and other children and women’s rights based Non-Governmental Organizations should change their advocacy styles on ending child marriage. They should realize that this harmful practice called child marriage cannot be eradicated in Nigeria by mere issuance of press releases, keeping of national and international dates for the girl-child, and ceremonial outings on child marriage. They should move away from their seemingly usual emotional reactive approach in the name of fighting child marriage to well thought-out, engaging, research based, strategic, proactive and consistent approaches towards ending child marriage in Nigeria.
The girl-child and the male siblings need to be sensitized to cry out loud and resist any moves for child marriage. When they cry out, there should be prompt intervention on their behalf. In essence, the young people themselves should be actively involved in the advocacy towards ending child marriage. Teachers, pupils, and students in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions should be enlightened on the dangers of child marriage and why the practice must stop. They, particularly, undergraduates from those communities and states where child marriage is still practiced should be encouraged to engage their people to stop the practice.
In part three of this interview we discuss positive changes in Nigeria in ending child marriage, the help that is available to victims and the laws in place to protect them.