Nearly one in two girls under 18 years and one in five girls under 15 are married, entrenching poverty among women, a research has shown.
The research, done by the Africa Health, Human & Social Development Information Service (Afri-Dev. Info) & Africa Coalition on Maternal Newborn & Child Health, reveals that Nigeria is among the top 20 of countries with the highest rate of underage marriage, or forced marriage.
After one year of the Chibok girls abduction, Amnesty International, had reported on how Boko Haram had abducted and turned over 2000 girls and women into sex slaves. The report was done in April 2015, after which many cases of abduction and forced marriages have been reported.
This high rate of underage/child or forced marriages is a reflection of the low status of the girl child and women in Nigeria where there is an institutionalised – cultural or religious and even legal – way of endorsing the abuse of rights of females, Afri-Dev said in its report.
This high rate of child marriages poses a danger to the attainment of development goals as it means more girls are uneducated because they have to be married and are susceptible to HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer, Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF).
Entrenching Feminisation of Poverty
Afri-Dev says “creating an underclass of tens of millions of girls/women that are economically dependent on their abusers – underage/child/forced ‘marriage’ – is deepening, entrenching and normalising the feminisation of poverty in Africa thereby making it impossible for the continent to sustainably end poverty.
Also, in 15 years, given the high fertility rate (5-8 children per woman) caused by high cases of underage marriage, 92.9 million youth (Nigeria) per country will be added to populations.
But it is not only in Nigeria that high rates of underage marriages abound. Africa, in general, tops the list of countries with the most underage married girls.
Niger has 76% of girls under the age of 18 married while the Central African Republic has 68%.
Afri-Dev recommends that UN agencies, development partners and governments should abolish the classification of minors or girls under the age of 18 as ‘women’ or ‘adult women’, and adopt a unified and more appropriate classification of – “girl children”, “adolescent girls”, or “girls under the age of 18 years”.
The organisation also says govenment should institutionalise trainings and reforms on gender equality and child protection at national and local level and adds that the enactment and enforcement of appropriate legislation to increase minimum age of marriage for girls to 18.a