Child, Not Bride: by Chiedozie Ude

Amina’s body dangled on tied pieces of clothes which were hastily knitted together to serve as a rope. Onlookers walked by, spitting on the ground, while muttering inaudible words of insults for the poor girl hanging on a tree, like a fruit— a fruit of societal and moral decadence. Amina’s eyes stared blankly at everyone who dared look her in the eyes, on her face was a picture of a fourteen-year-old girl who had finally found peace in the netherworld, after enduring for more than three years in a forced marriage with Mallam Fatah. Never again would he pass his hateful and oversized manhood through her teenage thighs. Never again would he starve and beat her to prove his “macholiness”. She would never get a decent burial because suicide was an act of taboo. Her body would be disposed in the forest, for nature elements to take care of, another hidden case of the flagitious nature of the hateful word CHILD MARRIAGE!

Another victim is Shafa (real incident). Shafa was a student of mine, the brightest pupil in my class. She suddenly stopped attending classes, and when I paid her home a visit, her father announced with a huge grin that Shafa has gone to stay with her husband. Shafa was just ELEVEN! Shafa was on a scholarship but her parents deemed it right for her to forfeit her education in order for her to serve the sexual and emotional needs of a man. Shafa will never be the doctor she said she wanted to be. This sad scenario has left me with no choice but to discuss the term “Child Marriage” and its intricacies.

Right from early childhood till now, we have always known marriage to be a union between a man and a woman, who according to the doctrine of Christianity leave mother and father to become one flesh. This definition simply implies that marriage is a thing for adults (man and woman, not children) and not kids. In Nigeria, one is regarded as an adult when one reaches the age of 18. Therefore, any union whereby one or both parties are below the age of 18 can be termed as child marriage. Just like in so many Second and Third World countries, the ignoble act of child marriage especially for girls is prevalent in Nigeria. Statistics has it that In Nigeria, 43% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday. 17% are married before they turn 15. In other to tackle this menace, a lot of researches has been carried out to find the things that instigate early marriage, and the unanimous agreement arrived for this ailment by the researchers was that the major reasons for child marriage in Nigeria are illiteracy, religion and poverty. These factors alongside many others have directly or indirectly promoted child marriage in Nigeria.

Religion is to blame in the sense that some parents give out their daughters in marriage due to the belief that it is the divine commandment of God or any other deity being deified. As a result of this, girls as young as twelve are already sexually active in the house of their husbands in the Northern part of Nigeria. Also, it is not uncommon to hear of girls being betrothed to suitors even as toddlers This trend of people marrying off their under-aged daughters is likely not going to stop until people stop making unilateral decisions concerning their children and putting the blame on God, or whatever deity they pay obeisance to. I call this ignorance of the highest order. The prevalence of child marriage varies widely from one region to another, with figures as high as 76% in the North West region and as low as 10% in the South East.

Poverty also plays a big role in child marriage. This is because some parents use their daughters as collateral for loans which they never repay, and in the process, they forfeit their daughters. This looks farfetched, but the sad reality is that it happens, it is still happening and will continue to happen in Nigeria and in other Second and Third World countries, unless something drastic is done to outlaw the use of humans as collateral for loans in the rural communities. This is a classic example of “selling the needy for a pair of shoes”.

Furthermore, as regards citing poverty as one of the leading causes of child marriage, some families feel that the best way to extricate themselves from the confines of abject lack and penury is by marrying off their daughters against their wishes for huge amount of money (bride price). It is sad to see young girls being auctioned like furniture to the highest bidder. Truly, the Bible was right when it described MONEY as the root of all evils.

The most glaring of all the causes of early marriage in my opinion has to be illiteracy. Statistics further backs this claim because a whooping 82% of women with no education were married before 18, as opposed to 13% of women who had at least finished secondary education. Other factors that can cause child marriage are; kidnapping, child trafficking and elopement.

One of the effects of child marriage is that the girls face a lot of abuse; both sexual and domestic. These victims are most times sexually abused by their “AGBAYA” husbands. It is heartrending to think about a girl of thirteen performing sexual acts on a man who is old enough to be her father, or even grandfather in some cases. These little girls become pregnant, give birth, and also, start nursing children, when they themselves still need nursing. It is not uncommon for one to hear about the various degrading punishments meted out to these girls, when they falter in the duties they are supposed to perform in their matrimonial homes, by their husbands or husbands’ kinsmen. This obviously brings up the multi-million-dollar question “How can a child be expected to perform jobs that even full grown women struggle with?” Children should be allowed to experience the joys of childhood and not MARRIAGE! The importance of childhood pleasures not being cut short by the madness of societal practices was further supported by the great English poet, William Blake, in his poem entitled “The School Boy”. We cannot expect sanity in our society if children are allowed to perform the jobs meant for adults. Another effect of child marriage is death. Many of the victims die during child birth, while the rest die as a result of the violence they face in the hands of their husbands or through suicide— for after all, many say suicide (death) is better than enslavement.

The solution to this malaise is that laws should be enacted to prohibit forceful and underage marriages, and any one caught indulging in this nefarious act in the pretext of religion or culture should be severely dealt with. Also, efforts should me made to make sure that every child has access to education so as to combat illiteracy and also, parents should be enlightened on the dangers of subjecting their children to such.
In conclusion, child marriage is highly detrimental to the children involved and this must not be tolerated. Say NO to this dastardly act.

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