Sarah, a medical doctor serving her fatherland in Kano, a northern state in Nigeria, woke up to the usual morning prayers conducted by the prestigious religious group dominant in the region. She had been faced with this new development since her arrival at her place of primary assignment, this was one out of the many new events she had been trying to get used to. As she walked out of her room to get some fresh air in the open compound,something struck her, quite a number of infants cuddled up to their relatives sitting around the house next to hers, at first, she thought it was just a large extended family, but she observed that the infants were fed by these girls, young girls who didn’t seem to look a day older than 15, 16 or, 17, she could deduce the ages so quickly because she has younger ones who were of the same age bracket, Sarah was deep in thoughts seeing that the girls were breastfeeding their infants.
Saddened in her heart, she remembered a conference she had attended while in medical school and how they talked endlessly about child marriage, she recalled how they explained child marriage to be a formal marriage or informal union entered into by an individual before reaching the age of 18. It affects both boys and girls, though mostly girls are affected, most of whom are from poor backgrounds. Sarah motioned to move towards the girls and have a little chat, but almost immediately an elderly man came out of the house with yet another young girl, Sarah perceived him to be their husband and decided it was a bad idea to have a chat with the girls there and then.
As she set out for her day’s activities, she was lost in thoughts about what may have led those girls into early marriage, she settled down and researched on child marriage, Sarah found out there were lots of factors ranging from poverty, cultural traditions, religious pressures, social pressures, regional customs, fear of remaining unmarried, illiteracy and perceived inability of women to work for money, also parents who engage their children in child marriage often feel that it provides their daughters with a sense of protection from sexual promiscuity and safe from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but in reality young girls tend to marry older men who have had lots of sexual expeditions thereby placing them at an increased risk of contracting a STIs. Married girls are more likely to get infected with diseases such as HIV or HPV(Human Papillomavirus) than their unmarried counterparts.
As unpleasant as the case is, Sarah found out the consequences of child marriage which include the following:
Health risk – these young girls are tender physically and as such their pelvis and birth canal are not fully developed, posing a threat to their reproductive, mental and physical health; each time a girl child goes into labour there is risk of maternal mortality and even more complicated health issues like fistula – these are usually caused by surgery or injury but can also result from infections, inflammation and cervical cancer; also the baby is not left out, the infant either has low birth weight or dies at birth (infant mortality), their babies tend to have weaker immune systems and heightened risk of malnutrition.
Decline in National Development – research shows that high rate of child marriage reduces global efforts to eradicate poverty due to its effect on educational attainment, like in Nigeria, child marriage inhibits the continuation of a girls’ education, resulting in an economy filled with uneducated girls with no job, the girls in turn give birth to children exposed to the same factors as theirs and the cycle goes on and on.
Violation of women’s rights – the United nations has declared child marriage a violation of human rights through series of conventions. Child marriage violates a range of women’s interconnected rights such as the right to be free from slavery, access to education, freedom of movement, freedom from violence, reproductive right, right to consensual marriage. The consequences of these violations impacts not only the woman, but her children and the society in general.
Dream Killer – this is a very sad truth, the girl who gets married off at a tender age and just at the time when she should make decisions on what path her life should go, loses the ability to fulfill her dreams of becoming someone great and influential in life.
After a long day of research work on child marriage, Sarah noted the solutions which include but are not limited to; education opportunities for girls to continue their education or earn money while expanding their skills, this is one effective way to delay marriage; proper enforcement of laws prohibiting child marriage; provision of free health services and information to young women; empowering young women through various programs.
What will Sarah do next? Find out in my next article on this series.
This is not a true story