In Nigeria, the child marriage problem needs to be cut off at the root

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Ebuka Mathias Itumoh, Blog4Dev Nigeria winner Ebuka Mathias Itumoh, Blog4Dev Nigeria winner

Defined as marriage before the age of 18 , child marriage is a problem with multifaceted dimensions and consequences.  

In Nigeria, an estimated 44% of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday and the country, also, records the 11th highest rate of child marriage (UNICEF 2013). Apart from its micro consequences on fertility, health, and wellbeing, child marriage has far-reaching macroeconomic and sustainability consequences for Nigeria; as an outcome of child marriage,  births increase, and the population explosion undermines the government’s ability to effectively plan and mobilize resources for sustainable development. 

However, ending child marriage in Nigeria would require terminating the problem at its root. It involves leveraging and harmonizing the instrument of the law, community efforts and the good standing of leaders of sociocultural institutions across Nigeria to nip the problem at its root. This has to do with getting rid of endemic and some dysfunctional aspects of the various cultural traditions in the country, which harbor and encourage gender-discriminatory norms. 

Consequently, I propose the following: 

First is tackling the moral hazard problem of the Nigerian government in relation to its ability to access development assistance from funding institutions like the World Bank, and its commitment to enforcing the already existing national laws made to prevent child marriage. Already, the country has a number of laws at various levels meant to tackle this problem, but they are not being enforced for political reasons. Tying access to international assistance or aid would force the government to sit up and enforce these laws. 

Secondly, enlisting sociocultural/religious leaders in the fight against child marriage. Across Northern Nigeria, where child marriage is most prevalent, the Emir of Kano-Muhammed Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has been the lone voice mobilizing support against child marriage in the entire Kano emirate. There are currently no statistics to estimate the impact of his advocacy in his emirate, but public perception against it had been changing drastically since his ascension to the throne in the last five years. You can then imagine what it would be like if the entire Hausa-Fulani emirate systems toe the same line as the Emir of Kano. How quickly would the practice change should influential religious leaders lend their voices too? 

Third, increasing community awareness of the impact of the problem through continuous advocacy for the rights of the girl child, girls empowerment programs and parents' education. Particularly, parents’ education. Many parents have ignorantly pushed their girls to child marriage as a result of poverty or as a means of curling favor from perceived patrons. Hence, increasing parents’ education in this regard would reduce the political-economic problem that arises from such ignorance. 

Finally, following up, simultaneously, on all of these approaches suggested above would greatly reduce the prevalence in Nigeria. Mentioned studies above believe that it thrives on favorable conditions of gender inequality and female disempowerment. Tackling it would requires ideas like the above-mentioned ones that would shrink the gender inequality space in Nigeria. 


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