Nearly 117,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the Nigerian government to raise the age of marriage to eighteen years nationwide.
The petition “It’s Never Your Fault: Raise the age of consent in Nigeria from 11 to 18”, started by three girls, calls for a ban on child marriage and enforcement of legislation.
Susan Ubogu, Kudirat Abiola and Temitayo Asuni set up the #raisetheage campaign in the wake of reports last year about a man in his 70s who married a 15-year-old girl in Niger state.
“When there is a large age gap between a bride and groom – as in the case that inspired the #raisetheage petition – it is highly likely that there is a huge power imbalance in the marriage,” said Hussaini Abdu, Plan International’s country director in Nigeria.
“Many girls in Nigeria are already treated as inferior to boys and men, but when they are trapped in a marriage they never wanted, it is even more difficult for them to get their voices heard.
“Their hopes and dreams are limited as soon as they start their new lives, they are often cut off from family and friends, unable to complete their education and fulfil their potential and are highly likely to face domestic and sexual violence,” he added.
An estimated 43 in 100 girls are married off before they turn 18. Among them 17 in 100 are married off before they turn 15.
Advocates say girls married before 18 are more likely to drop out of school, become a child mother, die during pregnancy or childbirth and be trapped in a lifetime of poverty.”
The petition hopes to gather some 150,000 signatures.
“’The aim of this petition is to make the constitution clearer on child marriage in Nigeria, including section 29(4b) which says that, “This is by its provision that any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age,’” the girls wrote.
“Due to the fact that this law is not clearly stated, it implies that being 11 or even younger, and in a marriage allows the culprit go scott-free, making the small girl-child suffer.”
Abdu says the girls are a “fantastic example of what girls can achieve if harmful practices that hold them back, such as child marriage, are no longer followed.”
“They know that we need change, and they’re fed up with waiting for someone else to make it happen. It’s an exciting time for girls in Nigeria. They’ve had enough – enough of being ignored, enough of being overlooked and enough of being underestimated.”