Nigeria has announced plans to end early girl child marriages and other related harmful traditional practices. Speaking at a media briefing in Abuja on Monday, Nigeria’s Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator Aisha Alhassan, said the country is set to launch a vigorous campaign to end child marriage.
According to the Guardian, Alhassan explained that the move was borne out of the resolution by African leaders to end child marriage during the 25th African Union Ordinary Session of Heads of State in June 2015.
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Alhassan decried the continued prevalence of early girl child marriages, its consequences on the victim, and its long-term effect on society. She also shed more light on the country’s efforts to protect the girl child through the enactment of appropriate legislation and a public awareness campaign.
“One of first practical steps is a vigorous campaign to end child marriage which [was] launched on November 29th at the Sheraton Hotel,” she said.
“Global communities and Nigeria in particular are increasingly recognizing child marriage as a serious challenge, both as a violation of human rights and a hindrance to key developmental outcomes.’’
Nigeria Ranked First
Alhassan’s press briefing comes in the wake of a new report released last week by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which revealed that Nigeria ranks highest in the world for the number of women suffering from obstetric fistula (OF), a medical condition in which a hole develops between the rectum and the vagina, caused by prolonged obstructed labor.
The report indicated that OF is caused by early marriages which are forced on adolescent girls who have not fully developed enough to handle the rigorous process of pregnancy and childbirth.
UNICEF’s Gender and Development Specialist, Venera Zakirova said, “About 20,000 new cases of OF occur annually and 90 percent of these cases go untreated, making the women or girls go through discrimination by suffering hard delivery, death of their babies, or ending up with OF and being ostracized by their family and community.”
Alhassan described the UNICEF report as “very disturbing,” adding that early child marriage in Nigeria and other parts of Africa denies the girl child her right to basic education, economic independence, health, and a bright future.
Africa Protects its Girls
“[The report] further revealed that 15 out of the 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world are in Africa,” she noted.
“Fifteen African countries have so far launched the campaign to end child marriage. The countries are Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Niger, the Islamic Republic of Gambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Zambia, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Madagascar.”
A number of African countries have recenlty introduced new legislation to end child marriages. In July, Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh announced a new law with a mandtory 10-year jail term for any man who marries an underage girl. Tanzania and Ghana have also introduced new laws to protect young girls.