Nigeria, Canada kick against child-marriage

IN furtherance of Canada’s programme on the eradication of child, early and forced marriage all over the world, the High Commission of Canada in Nigeria has kicked off a campaign to end the menace in Nigeria, especially in northern part of the country, where the case of early marriage is more prevalent and girl education is at its minimum.

  The High Commission is currently working with a local non- governmental organisation, Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative, which is a part of the 400-member Girl Not Bride Network worldwide. The organisation is helping to map the extent of child and early marriage, as well as to sensitise local communities especially, on the damage that is done by the menace, as well as working to reduce it.

  To drive home the point, the embassy recently in Abuja, held a photo exhibition of the extent of child marriage all over the world.  From Yemen to India and elsewhere in Asia, the travelling exhibit consisting of 26 framed photos and three videos showed how under-aged girls of between eight and 12 are forced into early marriage.

  The High Commissioner of Canada in Nigeria, Mr. Perry Calderwood, who noted that about 15 million girls are forced into early marriage worldwide on an annual basis, said that the exhibition, “Too Young To Wed”, had been shown around the world, including in countries such as the United States of America, United Kingdom, Argentina, Portugal, Finland, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Senegal and Ghana.

  According to Calderwood, the issue of child, early and forced marriage has become a priority to Canada because it has hindered the advancement of six out of the eight Millennium Development Goals  (MDGs), talking about the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; universal primary education; gender equality; child mortality; maternal health; combat HIV and other diseases. “A significant reduction in its prevalence would result in more developed, just and prosperous societies”, he said, adding that it is a top priority for Canada for the issue of child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) to be included in the post-2015 global development agenda.

  He stated that Canada in October 2013, announced the donation of $5 million in new money to address the causes and consequences of CEFM around the world. These funds, he said, were used for programmes in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Ghana, Somalia, and Zimbabwe.

According to him, Canada donated another $20 million in July 2014, to UNICEF, toward ending child, early and forced marriage. The donation is to be spread over two years. The UNICEF project aims to accelerate the movement to end child marriage in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Yemen and Zambia by supporting efforts in these countries to strengthen programming and political support to end the practice.

  The ambassador noted that the regional campaign aims to accelerate the end of child marriage in Africa by enhancing continental awareness of its effects.

   Member of the Board of the Nigerian NGO, Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative, Mrs. Mariam Uwais, who also spoke on the Nigerian experience at the press conference and exhibition held by the embassy, noted that many girls are not given the opportunity to realise their potentials mainly because they are married off early. According to her, half of them are married off before the age of 15.

  “This impacts on their health, talking about maternal health. We have about 20,000 young girls with narrow pelvis having VVF a year and our repair centre can only cope with 4,000 a year. The only way to combat this is to prevent it. We have girls dying while having children. They have babies dying of malnutrition.  Most babies who suffer malnutrition come from girls who are malnourished because the mother herself is malnourished. The child only grabs from whatever it can”.

 “This is frightening because in 10 or 20 years, these children are not able to reach their potentials in terms of nutrition and even cognitive ability. Then you think about the young girl that is married off. She moves into a new environment with responsibilities such as cooking for the husband, she starts looking after her husband, starts to get pregnant. That saps her emotionally. She has no formal education; her children don’t get formal education. This is a cycle that needs to be broken. She can not have a legitimate income, many communities where child marriage is practised are in poverty”.

  “When you have half of the community not being productive, there’s no way the girls can rise above their abject condition. The only option is to have divorce because they are immature, they are not patient. They have children left behind because they can’t take them back to their parents. So you have the almajiris, drug abuse and commercial sex workers”, she said.

  While addressing the misconception about certain faiths believed to be encouraging child-marriage, Uwais said that there is no faith that can justify injustice. “There is no way you can justify child-marriage, when you look at the scriptures, you will know that God is a just God. I appeal to everybody to adopt a girl or ensure that a girl remains in school. That way, they will be better wives and better mothers”.

  “Many Muslim majority countries are now pegging the minimum age for marriage because they’ve realised that it is harmful to the society. Even within Islam, there are doctrines that are utilised to prevent harm. And the problem is the people that actually benefit from child marriage are the parents and the husbands. We need to show what is happening in other countries to show that it is wrong, harmful and un-Islamic to compel a child to go through pains for the rest of her life. We have the duty to protect the weak and vulnerable in the society and there is no doubt that child-marriage has a lot of adverse effects”, she added.

  Executive Secretary of the NGO, Amina Hanga, who spoke about the experience in Kano, narrated the ordeal that women who had been married off early go through.

   “What struck me was the recent bombings that took place in a mosque in Kano. A lot of the men were killed and their wives, a lot of whom had been married off while they were children, none of them had formal education. They had no economic skills. The breadwinners were gone. Some had up to 10 children and some still had babies. One was a 40-day-old baby. What will happen to these women who had no education to help themselves? I live and work in Kano, this is what we see everyday, from the rural to the urban areas”.

 “In the rural areas especially, up till now, there is a lot of ignorance about the education of the girl-child. It’s either you see the girls hawking on the streets while the boys are almajiris, begging. It’s a challenge we need to work on. We need to get people to be aware of the problems and tackle them”.

  Hanga stated the need to sensitise the communities while calling on the legislators to pass the Child Rights Bill into law both at national and state levels. She also implored religious leaders to show leadership on the importance of education for children.

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