Child marriage is often deployed as a response to crisis, considered by families and communities to be the best possible means of protecting children. Fear of rape and sexual violence, of unwanted pregnancies outside marriage, of family shame and dishonour, of homelessness and hunger or starvation were all reported by parents and children as legitimate reasons for child marriage in some localities. Poverty, weak legislative frameworks and enforcement, harmful traditional practices, gender discrimination and lack of alternative opportunities for girls (especially education) are all major drivers of child marriage. However this researchers finds in addition to the above mentioned that lack of political will coupled with multiplicities of laws accounts for non-apprehension and prosecution of offenders thereby allowing them to hide under religion and continue to perpetrate crime against humanity. This study is an attempt to fill the void and chart the way out into a brighter and not bleak future for the girl child using data in our content analysis. We hope that stakeholders most especially government and the National Assembly can rise to the challenge and harmonise all laws necessary to deter child marriage in Nigeria. Keyword: Child Marriage, Law.
1.1 Background of the Study
Nigeria has once again attracted the World’s attention on a topical issue of global interest. This time around, the attention was shifted from insurgency of the dreaded and uncompromising Boko Haram in the Northern Nigeria; corruption in the high places; our undemocratic political parties; communal land disputes between Ezza and Ezillo in Ebonyi State; the Plateau State senseless family cleansings and so on to a more sensitive issue of individual, family, state, national, regional and global interest bothering on Child Marriage. The battle line was drawn by the National Assembly through the Senate when S29 (b) of the Constitution which contradicts S29 (a) particularly the Child Rights Act on Age limit for marriage was attempted to be amended. Although this part of the constitution deals with citizenship matters, the clause in the opinion of many grants the liberty for an adult male to marry under-age girl who is less than 18 years. Once this happens, such marriage seems to confer on the Child Bride adulthood and legal capacity. However, the Senate had initially voted to delete the clause before Senator Yerima of Zamfara State persuaded his colleagues for a second vote which eventually purportedly went for his favour. He argued that that it would be blasphemous and against Islam to legislate or fix the age of marriage in years. Consequently, the second vote failed to remove that constitutional provision. The informed public and Human Rights community interpreted the Senate resolution as express adoption of Girl-Child Marriage in the Country at a time when government is pumping billions of Naira from local and foreign aids in a bid to increase girl-child school enrolment. Indeed, it was seen as a major drawback by the Human Rights Community and well informed individuals.
Consequently, the National Open University of Nigeria, School of Law braced the trail by being the first ivory institution in the country and indeed in Africa after the saga to organize a public Seminar/Workshop to discuss the vexed and controversial issue which has generate considerable interest locally and internationally on the 4th of September, 2013 at the School Auditorium in Lagos. It was a conference of Nigeria’s finest brains from academic to religious as well traditional leaders and captains of industries. Speakers after speakers in the event, all speaking from their background and perspective on the day but one thing was absolutely common in all their submission; that the law as well as religious faiths did not provide marriageable age of a girl-child but rather, religions, conflict of laws dictates the right age of marriage of a girl-child.
This paper is in line with the Spirit of the current debate on Child Marriage in Nigeria yearning for a lasting solution to the issue. It is obvious that one does go after rats when in actual sense, his roof is under fire. How long do we condone evil and impropriety in our land shows how much we appreciate good things. It is time to call a spade a spade. The old adage that says it’s better to allow a sleeping dog lie can no longer hold water in face of teething challenges and problems occasioned by inhumanity of man to man. We must at all time and in all places no matter the cost to us stand for justice, equity and fairness. Therefore, this paper expectedly draws from the proceedings of the Seminar/Workshop and at the same time tries to explore deeper by examining some conceptual, empirical and theoretical framework of the subject matter under discussion. This paper will at the end draw its implications, prospects and solutions to the Child Marriage from the findings earlier examined. It is hoped that this paper will provide students, parents, government, academics, Human Rights Activists and Religious leaders with sufficient knowledge on Child Marriage. However, the objective is to enlighten all stakeholders especially the lawmakers whose responsibility is to make law for law and order that can stand the test of time and guarantee peace in our nation. All data used are secondary and we shall employ content analysis in our presentation, analysis and conclusions thereof.
1.2 Statement of the problem
Child marriage is an abuse of human rights. A lot of girls are given out in marriage against their will and without their consent. Globally, the acceptable age for marriage is 18 years and this is binding on all. UNICEF (2001) states that child marriage is now widely recognized as a violation of child right, a direct form of discrimination against the child who as a result of cultural practice is often deprived of her basic rights to health, education, development and equality. The imposition of the marriage partner upon a child means that a girl’s childhood is cut short, her fundamental human rights compromised while much of the impacts are hidden. Parental poverty, parental influence, ignorance, tradition, religion cultural belief, fear of teenage pregnancy, gender bias to mention a few continue to fuel this practice of early marriage, despite its strong association with adverse reproductive health outcomes and the lack of education of girls”. UNICEF also adds that “early marriage contributes to a series of negative consequences both for young girls and the society in which they live. It is a violator of human right in general and of girl’s right in particular. Early marriage has profound physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional impacts, cutting off education and employment opportunities and chance of personal growth”.
Child marriage affects the adolescent girls and their children stand the risk of being sick and also exposed to death. According to WHO (2006) adolescent mothers have “35%-55% higher risk than older women for delivery infants who are preterm and of low birth weight. Mortality rates are 73% higher for infants born to mothers less than 20 years of age than for those born to mother’s ages 20-29 years”. This mortality could be as a result of the teenage mother’s poor health, immaturity and financial constraints in accessing good social and health services, lack of access to social and reproductive services and also may be a fall out of financial constrains.
Considering the aforementioned facts, it becomes pertinent to ask questions such as: is the high prevalence of child marriage due to parental poverty? What is the relationship between child marriage and parental influence? Does ignorance promote child marriage? Or those still practicing this are simply not concerned about the health of their girls? In this study, the researcher seeks to answer these questions with a view to providing useful recommendations to curb this menace.
1.3 Objective of the study
The major objective of this work is to examine child marriage, legal issues, complications, implication prospects and solutions in Nigeria.
The specific objectives of this study are:
- To determine child marriage due to parental poverty
- To examine child marriage due to parental influence
- To ascertain factors responsible for child marriage
- To examine legal issues in Nigeria and conflicting laws
- To suggest prospects and solutions to child marriage
1.4 Research questions
- How would child marriage occur due to parental poverty
- How would child marriage occur due to parental influence
- What are the factors responsible for child marriage
- What are the legal issues in Nigeria and conflicting laws
- What are the prospects and solutions to child marriage
1.5 Significance of the study
Findings of this work will be beneficial to parents, students, lecturers, teachers/curriculum planners, community leaders, religious leaders, adolescent girls, government and those championing advocacy on maternal health and female rights.
For parents, findings of this study will enhance awareness on the dangers of child marriage to the health of their adolescent girls and also quip them with useful knowledge about the importance of female education.
Students will acquire more knowledge in the area of early marriage and the health of adolescents girls in our society and as such, will be able to take responsible decisions and also make safer choices such as rejection of early marriage.
This study would assist health workers in identifying the various health challenges posed by child marriage on female reproductive health that they might encounter in their course of duty.
This study will provide authentic information that will enable lecturers impart knowledge effectively on the effect of some cultural practices on female reproductive health. It will also help curriculum planners to include sex education / reproductive health in their curriculum.
This study would help in educating community leaders being the custodians of customs, on the effect of some cultural practices on female reproductive health which necessitates the need for change such as abolition of child marriage.
Religious leaders will gain more insight on the effects of child marriage on the health of adolescent girls which will assist them in educating their congregation in making informed choices as their opinions and decisions are highly respected in the society.
Findings of this study will be of benefit to adolescent girls because it will create awareness on the implications of early marriage such as teenage pregnancy vesico vaginal fistula, sexually transmitted diseases etc thereby preventing its occurrence and promoting their health.
To government and relevant authorities, it will help them have an understanding of the implications and dangers posed by child marriage on the health of adolescent girls thereby making stringent policies that can put an end to early marriage.
Those championing advocacy on maternal health and female rights will gain more understanding on the effect of child marriage which will enable them to create awareness of the associated dangers and also intensify positive interventions for change and thus drives to end early marriage which may lead to permanent disability, deformation, death of the foetus and / or the mother.
1.6 Research Methodology
In carrying out this research, various materials and research tools were employed. This includes; secondary source which consisted of library research in which published books, journals and the internet was considered. In the process of data collection, the library was consulted before embarking on the project, there is need to find out what has been written on the subject so as to guide the research on the general nature of the work and give root of background to the study. Hence, any information gathered was used to carry out proper work.
1.7 DELIMITATION (SCOPE OF THE STUDY)
This study is limited in scope to child marriage and legal issues with conflicting laws in Nigeria where considerable high rate and common occurrence of child marriage has been observed.
1.8 LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
Inthe course of carrying out the research study, the following factors posed limitation to the researcher:
- Combining the research work with academic pressure.
- Inadequate material to step up the work.
1.9 OPERATIONAL DEFINITION OF TERMS
The following terms used in this study were defined in the context that they had been utilized in this study:
- Child: A young human who is not an adult (male or female).
- Cultural practices: hereditary and unique ways of life of people. It is generally inherited through the induction and compelling of younger generation by an older one to reproduce established lifestyles (enculturation).
- Child marriage: This refers to marriages below the age of 18years when the reproductive organs are not fully developed for childbirth and also without consent.
- Female Reproductive health: a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and its functions and processes.
- Girl: This is a female child.
- Health: This is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being of an individual not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
- Ignorance: Is lack of knowledge or information about something.
- Influence: The power to produce an effect, beliefs or actions a person or thing with this power.
- Marriages: Most valued and respectable social institution that connotes a legal union between a man and a woman.
- Implication: A possible effect or result of an action or a decision
- Parental: Having to do with parents
- Poverty: It is a condition or state that renders an individual socially and economically handicapped.
- Parental poverty: This is an inability of parents to provide for their children.