Editor's note: Focusing on the helplessness of the girl child,the writer, Caroline Yaakugh, attempts to shed more light on the destructive nature of child marriages in Nigeria and the roles of the society in putting an end to these practices.
As a young girl, I knew of seven friends (girls) in the neighborhood who like every other hopeful teenager, had big dreams; three of them wanted to be doctors, the other four, social scientists. Only three got to fulfill their dreams. The rest of them were married off before they even turned 17. The excuse of the parents? Lack of finance to train them.
"A child is not a retirement plan nor a meal ticket." I stumbled across this quote on Twitter a while back and it made so much sense as regards the issue of child marriages in Nigeria today. Going through several reports and news updates, a lot of parents who have sold their underage children into slavery heavily disguised as marriages, either trumpeted tradition as their reason or poverty.
A while ago, there was major outrage on social media after a 70-year-old man identified as Alhaji Yakubu (Nafsi-Nafsi) married an underage girl, believed to be 15 years, in Lapai local government area of Niger state on December 10. While a lot of people condemned the act, some defended the marriage, stating it was acceptable in their religious doctrines. Others however were indifferent as they described the issue as a 'northern issue."
Just recently, there was a story trending on social media about yet another child marriage. A 16-year-old girl had just been married off to a 56-year-old man believed to be physically and socially impaired. So basically, the teenage girl had just been sold off into a life of babysitting and slavery.
Two very different young girls from two very different religious and cultural background, all put in the same situation by people who were supposed to love, protect and guide them. This just goes to show that neither poverty, religion nor ethnicity is the issue but the selfishness and ignorance of these parents and guardians.
As a parent, it is your social responsibility to not only raise your children, but assist them in achieving their dreams, not be the reason those dreams drown in hopelessness and emptiness. You owe them that much. No child was asked to be born, not even the ones you lack the ability to cater for. They say ignorance kills faster than disease and this is clearly reflected in the way these young girls are being done a great disservice.
It is so convenient for people to hide behind religious and cultural beliefs to justify their selfish desires, regardless of how detrimental it is to others. Many people defend these child marriages, stating it was a norm in the past and these young girls actually want to be married as well. Well, regardless of these pathetic attempts at justifying a basic human right violation, the fact still remains; silence is not consent just the same way a practice doesn't get an automatic promotion on the morality scale simply because it is age-long, neither should it be immune to change.
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Nigeria is the 11th highest nation in the world for number of child marriages. This goes to show how little we value our children, especially the female ones. What is even more bone-chilling is the fact that in the 21st century Nigeria, the age of consent is 11. This begs the question; what exactly are the lawmakers in this country doing? How have they ensured that the future of children is secured?
Section 23 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria says “a person under the age of 18 is incapable of contracting a valid marriage. If such a marriage does take place, it should be declared null and void and of no effect.” However, only 23 of Nigeria’s 36 states have taken concrete steps to implement the minimum age of marriage.
Contradictorily, Section 29(4b) of the same constitution technically approves child marriage. In a sane and functioning society, laws, especially those made for the underage, physically challenged and elderly are not supposed to be compromised. In Nigeria however, it is more or less considered a joke as too many people benefit from breaking the law rather than upholding it.
If the government won't fight for the rights of the girl child, it is up to us as a people, to stand for what is right, regardless of whose ox is gored. For every time you support, be indifferent or turn a blind eye to this modern day slavery, a dream is crushed and a life, more or less, destroyed.
Child, not bride.
This opinion piece was written by Caroline Yaakugh.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Legit.ng.
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