UNTIE THE KNOT: End Child Marriage by Jessica Orika - Eyesoflagos



How would you feel if you were robbed of your childhood; waking up one morning only to find a group of men in your living room negotiating with your father for your hand in marriage; the man you love and respect trading off his little girl without even giving you a chance to make that choice yourself? It is no news that child marriage is a growing trend in the northern part of Nigeria. With each passing minute, a girl child is robbed of her innocence, the ability to make a choice for herself and sold off in marriage to a man who is just as old as her father or even older. She is being condemned to a lifetime of confusion and pain by her own parents and the lawmakers of the state who are supposed to be her protectors.



According to United Nations International Children Education Fund (UNICEF), Africa has the highest incidence rates of child marriage, with over 70% of girls marrying under the age of 18, in three nations. Among Nigerian women between the ages of 20 and 24, 76% reported marrying before the age of 18, and 28% reported marrying before the age of 15. The northern part of Nigeria has one of the highest rates of early marriage in the world with an estimated 65% of children sold off in marriage. Child marriage has been legalized in 12 states in Nigeria and this trend seems to be on the increase in Nigeria though laws have been made to put an end to its existence. These forced child marriages are a life changing reality for the girls who are victimized by this act of inhumanity. They are being forced to trade theirchildhood for a future of uncertainty, health hazards, isolation and violence; becoming brides and eventually mothers when they were not even given a chance to be children. They are denied the right to choose whom and when to marry. Parents who engage in this practice do this due to traditional obligation, poverty, the twisted need to protect their innocent younglings from sexual promiscuity and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), religious and social pressures, gender inequality amongst many other reasons, never taking a pause to evaluate the heavy consequences of their decision. Some other parents are threatened by the state or people who want their daughter’s hand in marriage so they yield to the threats in order to save their lives while a few others who do not yield to the threat are killed before the eyes of the daughters who are then sold off in marriage like sheep taken to the slaughter.
The consequences of this negligence run too long and too deep for the girl child’s health. No girl child should be allowed to experience this. Some of these consequences include;

HEALTH RISK:
Once married, these child brides face the intense pressure to become baby making machines. The older men who they are married to obviously do not care about the fact that they are just little babies who are supposed to be under the care of their parents so they go ahead to indulge their sexually under developed bride in all kinds of sexual practices. These girls face a high probability rate of contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Neither physically or emotionally ready to become a mother, the girls who are initiated into sexual activity while their bodies are still developing, are vulnerable to pregnancy related injuries and a range of other long-term health complications. Her pelvis and birth carnal which are not fully developed causes her to face a higher risk of deaths in childbirth and her child stand a 50% risk more likely to be under weight, still born or die within its first weeks of life. The children of these child brides are at substantially greater risk pf perinatal infant mortality and morbidity. They tend to have a weaker immune system and face a heightened risk of malnutrition.



 EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL RISK:
This gender based violence robs the girls of their sense of self-worth and reasoning since they were not given the opportunity to develop properly before being cast out into the wild. The forced sexual initiation and early pregnancy have a lasting effect on the mental health of child brides for years after. It destroys her perception of intimacy in marriage and start to view sex and marriage as rape and a curse instead of a gift from God to man. They constantly live in fear of their husband 
     and eventually resort to various means of reliving the pain and fear they feel which includes killing their husbands.


DOMESTIC VIOLENCE:
The large age gap between the child bride and her spouse increase the power and control of her husband over her and makes her very vulnerable to domestic violence and nonconsensual sexual intercourse. They face various kinds of severe and life threatening marital violence with little or no hope of safety for them and their children.




ILLITERACY AND POVERTY:
Education is the bedrock of the society. The girls are robbed of the chance to choose if they want to be educated or not and condemned to marriage, the rate of illiteracy, ignorant crime that is inspired by hate and then poverty is on the rise. They focus on the domestic duties and child bearing and raising duties as required of a wife rather than the educational duties of a growing child. As a result of this, they cannot earn a reasonable income and financially provide for themselves in a case where they become widowed. This vicious cycle is bound to continue with their children and the ones after them because they have come to accept their situation and their ignorance may cause them to condemn their children to the same fate.

ROBBING THE GIRLS OF THEIR LIFE AND DREAMS:
They lose their childhood prematurely and without their consent and as such lose the ability to choose how their lives are fulfilled. They are deprived of the opportunity to live and grow the right way. The dream of becoming somebody great and influential is killed and their destiny tainted with this blackness. She becomes a woman in the eyes of the law when she is still physically, emotionally and psychologically a child.
Actions are being taken by world bodies and concerned individuals to end this madness and evident headway is being made. Several laws have been put in place to reduce the rate of child marriages, education opportunities are offered to the rescued victims of child marriage amongst other actions. However, the need for more; an immediate and continuous action on the part of the female folk and male alike is very necessary. The fact that a child has started maturing physically as in the development of breasts and seeing of her monthly period does not make her a bride. She is still a child and as such must not be violated. She is neither a bride nor a mother, she is only a child who is being denied a path of her own and condemned without even given a chance to grow up and make her own choices. If you think you know pain, you do not know the devastating pain of having your childhood cut short by the ones who are supposed to be your protectors, all your hopes and the dreams brought to an abrupt halt in just a second, spending every waking moment of your life in untold/unspoken pain and ignorance for the rest of your life. It does not have to be you or your child

before you decide to take an action. This is a call to action. We need to stand and fight for the life and right of the girl child. You were once a child; given a chance to grow and be a bride; the chance to choose a path for your life. These girls are robbed of this chance and much more. Let’s put an end to this madness. Let’s say no to girl child marriage. 

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