Comments, Human Rights, In Focus

The hard battle against forced child marriage

This ancient practice is driven by gender inequality and the belief in the inferiority of women to men. This prevents them from physical freedom and the ability to decide their future. In Nigeria it is a social problem since 11 of its 36 states have not yet adopted the law for the protection of children.


Helping children get back to school. Photo by EU Civil Protection / Flickr. Creative Commons License.

 Amelia Duarte de la Rosa


  According to the organisation Girls not Brides, there are 4.1 million married girls in Nigeria, which means that almost 50% of the girls are married before the age of 18, and 16 per percent marry before 15.

One of the main factors perpetuating the practice of child brides is poverty, since families with fewer resources marry off their young daughters to reduce their economic burden, the same institution says.

Another element is the levels of education, since only 9% of girls who completed higher education are married before coming of age, compared to 73% of women without formal education.

Forced child marriage can also be motivated by political ties and the desire to create alliances with or between wealthy families, making the young girls a mere means of business and commerce.

Harmful cultural practices and religion are also causes of this phenomenon, since the underlying idea in these unions at such early ages is to ensure that they marry virgins, to save the honour of the family.

Meanwhile, religion becomes a support framework for these persistent cultural traditions.

In Muslim-majority northern Nigeria, there is a belief that a girl’s maturity is defined by her physical appearance and menstruation, both of which often occur well before the age of 18.

Child Marriage in Darfur. Photo by Albert González Farran, Unamid/ Flickr. Creative Commons License.

Armed conflict is another factor contributing to the growing number of forced brides.

A good plan, but not enough

Around 20,000 girls and adolescents in Nigeria have been safe from marriage for the last three years, thanks to a local programme developed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The international institution’s plan proposed to put those under 18 and at risk of being married in schools and safe places, it taught more than 300,000 young people about the need to end this harmful practice and trained 900 health workers in female genital care.

In August 2022, a report from the National Immunisation Coverage Survey in collaboration with Unicef revealed that in Nigeria there was a significant decrease in the number of girls marrying before the age of majority.

However, several local studies still reflect the insecurity experienced by many women and girls, who suffer from horrendous brutality and abuse, which increases the mortality rate and vulnerability to exploitation.

Minors Protection Law

The National Human Rights Commission defines the Child Rights Law (passed in 2003) as the “law that guarantees the rights of all children”, considering any person under 18 years of age as a minor.

Aware of the challenges faced by infants throughout the country, the Commission is responsible, at the federal level, for the application of the law and thus complying with international commitments. But regulation is problematic, as the laws are not immediately applicable in all states.

In addition, the Nigerian Constitution states that children’s issues are the province of each region.

For example, Imo – where Christianity predominates – was one of the first states to adopt the law in question, in 2004, but its implementation is a problem and many families force daughters to marry against their will if they experience an unwanted pregnancy.

“Girls not brides” global meeting. Photo “Girls not brides”/ Flickr.  Creative Commons License.

On the other hand, the Muslim province of Kano – which has one of the highest figures for child marriage – voted to pass the Child Protection Law almost a decade later, in February this year, but has yet to implement it.

Neither the Nigerian Constitution, nor the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child – adopted by the African Union in 1990 – allow this practice by confirming the age of majority as 18 years.

However, an article in the country’s Magna Carta contradicts those principles, by defining any married woman as of legal age, regardless of how old she is when she gets married.

(Translated by Hannah Phelvin)Photos: Pixbay


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