Mrs Maryam Uwais, Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Special Protection Plan, on Sunday described child marriage as the worst form of violence against the girl-child.
Uwais, who is also a gender activist, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos that child marriage deprived such child so much in life and reinforced the cycle of inter-generational poverty in the society.
She said that such child-bride was uneducated, immature and unprepared to take decisions and address issues in her family.
She said that a mother who did not go to school would not appreciate the value of education, and her children would not also go to school to get educated and acquire skills to confront future challenges.
According to her, an educated mother will ensure her children go to school and become responsible and contributing citizens in the society.
“Some give excuses that they want to prevent the girl-child from engaging in underage sex and getting pregnant out of wedlock to safeguard the family name and honour.
“Others said child marriage protects the girl-child from being raped, but I believe that even within the marriages the girls are being raped by their husbands.
“We need to focus on this issue and see what we can do collectively to delay early or child marriage, we are not saying don`t marry, we are saying marry when you are mature, mentally and physically fit,’’ she said.
Uwais described child marriage as a union between spouses below the age of 18 before the child was physically and physiologically ready to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and child bearing.
She said the union may take place with or without formal registration under the civil, customary or religious laws.
“In West Africa, it is usually the female that is below 18, and if child marriage continues at this current rate, an additional 100 million girls in developing countries will be married off within the next decade.
“That is, 25,000 new child-brides every single day for the next 10 years.
“Nigeria has 40 per cent of global child marriages, 76 per cent of adolescents’ girl are in marriages in the North-West, 68 per cent in the North-East and 35 per cent in the North-Central, incidentally where poverty is highest.
“So, there is a strong correlation anywhere in the world between child marriage and poverty that we seem to overlook. The fact that there is a lot of child marriage means that there is poverty,’’ she said.
Uwais said that poverty rates in the North-East and the North-West were more than 50 per cent and in some cases above 70 per cent due to high prevalence of child marriage.
According to her, poverty rates are much lower in Southern states where there is less child marriage.
She said some families resorted to child marriage as an immediate strategy to escape the cycle of poverty and a way to provide for the girl`s future.
“I think it is important that we emphasise that child marriage actually entrenches and reinforces the cycle of inter-generational poverty.
“Over half of the women in the North-West and in the North-East by statistics are married off before the age of 16 and are expected to bear children within the first year of marriage.
“Bearing children at an age below 18 is harmful and there is no culture or religion that supports harm to any child.
“So, I think this is the position we need to take because there are lots of religious and cultural misconceptions about whether or not we can peg the age for marriage.
“These misconceptions are the reason many states in Nigeria have refused to address the issue of pegging the age for marriage or enact a law to delay early marriage,” she said.
Uwais said that programmes were ongoing in the North-West to overcome some of the challenges associated with eliminating child marriage, saying that it is more of an attitude issue and mind set.
“We need to see how we can enable our girls go to school, get educated, boost their confidence and self-esteem to be prepared for future challenges even in marriages.
“We need to push these issues forward that girls have a right to education, skills acquisition and self-actualisation.
”There must be a strong focus on education because it can transform our society and human capital by making them more healthier, better educated, empowered and productive.
“We need the government, the religious organisations, the communities, activists and non-governmental organisations in this advocacy because a country that protects, provides and plan effectively for its children is assured of its future,’’ Uwais said.