Child marriage violates children’s rights and places them at the high risk of violence, exploitation and abuse. It negatively influences their rights to education, health and protection, and robs girls of their childhood. Its impact does not stop on the child, but also the family and community. Girls who marry below 18 years of age are more likely to be out of school. They are likely to experience domestic violence and become infected with HIV/AIDS. They are likely to have children when they are still children and have chances of dying due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
In Nigeria, child marriage is illegal. Various governments provided measures against the practice by signing regional and international instruments that regulate the rights of children.
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Nigeria also ratified the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) in 1991, the African chapter on the rights and warfare of the child in 2001. Nevertheless, due to poverty, gender inequality and traditions, many parents still allow child marriage.
According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in 2003, an estimated 44 per cent of girls in Nigeria get married before 18 years.
While ending child marriage in Nigeria is not an easy task, government would have to stop all factors that encourage it, empower institutions to enforce all laws to prevent the practice and enlist traditional and religious leaders in the fight against it.
There should also be more community awareness through continuous advocacy for the rights of the girl-child. Increasing parents’ knowledge on the adverse effects of child marriage will also reduce the practice.
Ezekiel Sunday, Department of Mass Communication, University of Maiduguri.