Adolescent girls face a high risk of abuse, sexual exploitation, discrimination, violence, and forced marriage during conflicts and natural disasters. The most common form of discrimination the girl child faces is forced marriage and child Labour, especially in Northern Nigeria.
Currently, Nigeria has over 3.5 million under-18 girls who are married – the highest number of child brides in Africa and the third-highest number in the world. The rate of child marriage varies significantly by geo-political zones in Nigeria, ranging from 39.0% to 67.6% for the Northern region while the Southern region has a lower rate of 13.9% to 21 .6%. This implies that the girl-child marriage rate has not improved over the years with a 1% decline in over three decades.
Nigeria passed the Child Rights Act that prohibits marriage below the age of 18 in 2003, 12 Northern states are yet to domesticate the Act, this is an indication that Nigeria’s population of child brides will double by 2050.
Though not limited to one religious group, available evidence reveals that child marriage is more prevalent in Muslim communities. This is associated with the belief among the conservative Muslims that Quran allows girl’s marriage at any age, and Prophet Muhammad’s wife, Aisha (RA) was nine years at marriage.
This is often used as an excuse or a means to justify child marriage. The conservative Muslims always refer to Aisha’s story, they’ve forgotten that life expectancy in the medieval time, life expectancy is about 25-30 years old and a lot of people got married early and had children.
Sadly many of the child brides we have today are not treated the way Aisha was. So why do we need to marry these girls at a young age and subject them to the pain that comes with living sick and uneducated lives? It is a question whose answer can be found in poverty and Socio-cultural norms rationalized with religion.
Biologically, children’s bodies are not made for sex, some people say ten-year-olds are more mature than 40 years olds. Our bodies develop and reach puberty for a reason. Also, young brides tend to experience violence from their old husbands.
A serious rethink needs to happen to curb this Injustice, men and women should have equal rights and none should be treated lesser.