“Suffering in Silence”: Unveiling the Harsh Reality of Violence Against Girls in Child Marriages in Nigeria
Child marriage remains a deeply ingrained cultural and religious issue in Nigeria, casting a dark shadow on the lives of countless young girls. This blog aims to shed light on the alarming prevalence of violence against girls within the context of child marriage in Nigeria.
The Dreadful Statistics:
Child marriage remains a pervasive problem in Nigeria, with alarming statistics revealing the extent of its impact on young girls. Nigeria is home to the largest number of child brides in the African continent and has one of the highest rates of child marriage globally, with over 44% of girls married before the age of 18 years. It is important to note that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society and there are ethnic variations in the prevalence of child marriage with the Northern Hausa/Fulani groups recording a prevalence of 74.9%. High levels of poverty, insurgency, insecurity and climate change effects are also contributing to the high prevalence of child marriage in Nigeria.
Violence in Early Unions:
Young girls forced into child marriages often experience various forms of violence, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Hauwa (not real name) shared her ugly experience with me during a consultation at a community clinic in an urban slum in Ibadan Nigeria. Here is Hauwa’s story:
".....When I was 12 years old, I was forced to marry Bala, a 45-year-old farmer in my village. I was in my first year of secondary school at the time, and I was forced to drop out, which deeply saddened me. My father had already collected money and gifts from Bala. My mother who disagreed with my father's decision, yet couldn't do anything about it. I cried a lot on the first night when I was beaten into surrendering to Bala as he had his way with me….. the pain was much! This became a pattern: verbal abuse, physical punches, and forceful sexual intercourse. I quickly became accustomed to this dreadful routine, until I couldn't take it any longer and decided to end my life……"
Child marriage disrupts girls' education, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and vulnerability. Lack of education leads to loss of agency and autonomy which exacerbates their susceptibility to violence and perpetuates the cycle. In most cases, there is a power imbalance as most of the girls are forced into marrying older men who are as old as their fathers. This further worsens the dominance and abuse as cultural expectations stipulate the girl to be submissive to her husband regardless of any circumstance.
Cultural, Religious and Social Factors:
The notion that educating a girl-child is a total waste of money as she will end up in another man’s kitchen is one of the prevailing cultural and social norms that contribute to the persistence of child marriage. Additionally, religion also plays a key role as some muslims believe that Islam allows girls to marry before the age of 18 years. While some Islamic scholars disagree with this point, others believe that a girl’s second menses should meet her in her husband’s house. Untold economic hardships, severe poverty, stigma, insurgency and displacement are some social factors that have increased and sustained this harmful practice in Nigeria. We must analyze the factors that sustain this harmful practice and explore potential avenues for cultural change.
While there are existing legal frameworks in Nigeria aimed at preventing child marriages and protecting young girls, implementation of these frameworks has always been poor. Only 28 of 36 Nigerian states have adopted the federal Child Rights Acts which made marriage before the age of 18 years illegal. All the states that have thus far refused to adopt the Act are located in the north, the implication of this fact is that child marriage is not prohibited where it is commonly practiced in the country. Government representatives in these states, who are supposed to lead the implementation and enforcement, have used religious and cultural arguments to justify their opposition to the Child Rights Act.
It is important to get community support when developing and implementing initiatives aimed at eradicating child marriages. The ENding Child mArriage in Nigeria through community-led media SEries (ENCASE ) project is one of such initiatives. The project got the support of community leaders and members which made the intervention quite successful. Hence, community involvement is required in breaking the cycle of violence.
Child marriages have severe health implications for young girls, including early pregnancies, increased maternal mortality rates, birth complications, depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder just to mention a few.
In conclusion, the violence against girls in child marriages in Nigeria is a multifaceted issue that demands immediate attention. By raising awareness, advocating for policy changes, and fostering community engagement, we can collectively work towards breaking the chains that bind these young girls and create a brighter future for the generations to come.
Dr. Olubukola Omobowale -
MBBS, MPH, FWACP
A Lecturer in the Rehabilitative & Social Medicine Unit, Department of Community Medicine, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Nigeria and a Consultant Community Physician at the University College Hospital Ibadan, Nigeria.
Dr Omobowale obtained her MBBS degree from the University of Ibadan and subsequently got her Master of Public Health from the same University. She is a Fellow of the Faculty of Community Health of the West African College of Physicians (WACP) and a member of the Faculty of Public Health, National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria (NPMCN). She is a Global Mental Health Researcher, Community Mental Health Advocate and Women’s Health professional. Her current projects are focused on providing Community Based Rehabilitation and Psychosocial Support Interventions for people living with mental health conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa and ending Child Marriage in Nigeria through Community-led media series. Dr. Omobowale has presented her work at local and international conferences with articles published in peer reviewed journals.