Dimeji Daniels: Child marriage: We are all violated
Irrespective of whatever definitions it may have been given, child marriage is when a shameless old man is shamelessly having sex with a helpless little girl, without regard to her wellbeing, safety, success, emotional make-up, education and survival.
The action of such shameless men, according to UNICEF, is why maternal deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth account for N70, 000 deaths yearly and the risk of dying for infants born to victims of child marriage in their first year of life is 60 percent greater than that of an infant born to a mother older than 19. “Even if the child survives, he or she is more likely to suffer from low birth weight, under nutrition and late physical and cognitive development,” UNICEF said. This is so because the reproductive organs of these young girls are not developed enough to cope with the rigour and emotional requirements of child bearing.
Despite the dangers and risks associated with child marriage and efforts being made globally to check the trend, the statistics in Nigeria are nothing short of appalling and scary.
Nationwide, 20% of girls are married before age 15. In the Northwest of the country, 48% of girls are married before age 15. Worse of all, 27% of married girls aged 15-19 are in polygamous marriages, thus compounding the emotional and psychological torture they are exposed to given the usual attendant wranglings of polygamy. Most of these child brides are also not in school. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), “only 2 percent of 15–19-year-old married girls are in school, compared to 69 percent of unmarried girls. Some 73 percent of married girls compared to 8 percent of unmarried girls received no schooling, and three out of four married girls cannot read at all.”
If this trend continues, the success of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), which to a far extent seem to have failed in almost all parts of the country, hangs in the balance, especially goals 2, 3, 4, 5 (achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality rates, improving maternal health).
Executive Director of UNPFA Babatunde Osotimehin captured this more succintly: “Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects. A girl who is married as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled.”
Underscoring the dangers associated with child marriage, the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) said between 2011 and 2020 more than 140 million girls will become child brides globally, that is 14.2 million annually and 39, 000 daily. Of this figure, 50 million will marry before they are 15.
Scary figures like these are why many nations are making concerted efforts to stem the tide of child marriage. In Malawi for instance, measures such as providing free universal access to primary education, working with chiefs to sensitize their communities on the importance of sending children to school, with an emphasis on the girl child, implementing a policy that allows girls who become pregnant during school to go back to school after delivery to continue their education, working with parliamentarians to raise the age at marriage to 18 years by 2014 and providing Youth Friendly Health Services. Under the programme, youth are armed with information on how to make informed choices about their reproductive health.
Unbelievable as it may sound and despite the global campaign against child marriage, Nigeria seems to be in her own world with its cavemen-lawmaking style that allows sexual predators to further worsen the plight of the Nigerian girl-child. Senators like Ahmed Yerima and his co-sexual slave masters have argued that is not just about sex, but about “family and helping one another in achieving their goals, which is the attainment of Paradise.”
One must then ask Yerima the relevance of Vesico Vaginal Fistula (leakage of urine into the vagina), an attendant risk of child marriage, to attaining Paradise? Is it Yerima’s job to ensure that the 12, 000 who develop VVF yearly in Nigeria attain Paradise by sending them to early grave?
Studies have shown that 54.8 percent of victims of Vesico Vaginal Fistula and Recto-Vaginal Fistula (leakage of feaces into the vagina) in Nigeria are below 20 and 64.4 percent of these gave birth at home or in poorly equipped clinics, as is common in the North where child marriage is most prominent.
Though there are other causes of VVF and RVF, the most prominent of these causes are sexual violence and obstructed labour arising mostly from underdeveloped pelvises in these young girls. In fact, obstructed labour have been found to be responsible for 76 percent to 97 percent of fistulas while obstructed labour and obstetric fistula account for 8% of maternal deaths globally. What is most disheartening is that as soon as these girls develop fistula, rather than avail them medical care, these insatiable sexual predators move on to entice another family with their ill-gotten wealth in a bid to ruin their daughter’s life.
Given the high prevalence of poverty in parts of Nigeria where this is common, the end of child marriage may not just be in sight. We may fight the Senate all we want. We may even successfully and permanently legislate against child marriage. All these would amount to nought unless we take serious and sincere steps to rid Nigeria of the kind of dehumanizing poverty that proponents of child marriage exploit to stoke their cannibalistic sexual thirst.
As long as poverty remains with us, child marriage will be on the increase, and who knows, Nigeria may help surpass the 140 million girls who will be married as child brides before 2020. As long as Nigeria is where there is so much want and pain in the midst of plenty, people like Yerima will have their way and irrespective of any law, impoverished and poverty-debased parents will give the hands of their daughters in marriage to such people, after all, it is what they have that they will use to make a livelihood; it just doesn’t matter if the lives of young girls are fatally involved.
And it is not just these little helpless girls: all of us are being violated by our stupendously, criminally and consciencelessly rich leaders. The modes of violation are different, but the end result is the same. A financially violated man and a sexually violated young girl could both end up dead, time or rate of death notwithstanding.