The Immorality of Child Marriage By Sabella Abidde

In many societies around the world, children, especially the girls, are treated poorly. They are voiceless. Many are confined to a childhood of misery. And many more are sexually exploited. Untold number are abandoned by their parents; abused by paedophilic men; forsaken by an indifferent society; and neglected by an uncaring government. Many of these girls would go on to become child-brides. And as child-brides, they would be denied their human and civil rights. Even in adulthood, a sizeable number would never be whole or be truly happy. Never!

In response to these and other realities, a gathering of world leaders agreed that children needed special protection. This was in 1989. And so through the United Nations, they initiated the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The CRC was the “first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights — civil, cultural, economic, political and social” on those under the age of 18. The Convention “spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere have: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.” Nigeria is a signatory to this convention – a convention that forbids child marriage.

Child marriage is not as rare as many would like to think. Some estimates put the number at between 60 million and 80 million across many religions and cultural landscapes.  In Canada, for instance, a pregnant girl under the age of 18 may get married if the court allows it. In Scotland, children do not need parental consent or court’s approval once they turn 16. In Denmark, a 15-year-old could marry. And in many federating states in the United States, girls under age 18 could marry if they secure parental or court consent. In essence, in spite of the CRC, some countries still make allowance for the marriage of minors. Nonetheless, a 10 or 12-year-old is mentally and physically different from a 16 or 18-year-old.

There is a world of difference – a difference many in different countries do not seem to know or want to differentiate. In Yemen for instance, it is not uncommon for children as young as nine to marry. In spring 2012, Saudi Arabia announced it would allow girls as young as 10 to marry. Not to be outdone, a member of the Iranian Parliament, Mohammad Ali Isfenani, advised that, “We must regard nine as being the appropriate age for a girl to have reached puberty and qualified to get married. To do otherwise would be to contradict and challenge Islamic Sharia law.” The current minimum age in Iran for marriage is 13. Before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, it was 16.

In the rural areas of Nigeria, it is not unusual to see child marriages. But whether in the rural or big cities, carnal activities between teenagers are a given. That these activities are common does not make it right or advisable or legal. Teenage-experiments may be overlooked; but sex or marriage with a minor (by an adult) should be a prosecutable offence. Fortunately, the Nigerian Constitution puts the age of consent – the age of adulthood and marriage at 18. That’s how it should be. But unfortunately, traditional and social media outlets are reporting that there is an ongoing debate in the Nigerian Senate about “being able to marry girls as young as 13.”

For instance, the Nigerian Feminist Forum was reported to have “expressed great concern about a resolution of the Nigeria Senate to alter Section 29(a) of the constitution which stipulates that a woman shall not be qualified for marriage until she attains 18 years of age, and called on the National Assembly to reconsider the resolution.” What insanity! Have these Senators lost their minds? Are they psychologically and intellectually unwell? Forgive my annoyance, but really, you have to be depraved, in need of help and downright perverted to want to or actually marry girls that are that young.

For a while in human history, we allowed child and human sacrifice, cannibalism and the killing of twins. These and many other practices may have been fashionable decades and centuries ago. But not today. And much like fraternal polyandry, sororate and levirate, child marriage may have had its place culturally and religiously. But not in today’s world. This is the age of enlightenment and reason and common sense. Reason and enlightenment and common sense dictate that we respect and accord women and children their rights and privileges. And so I ask: What sane father and or mother would allow grown men to violate their little princesses in the name of culture or religion? What nonsense! What depravity!

We live in a world that affords grownups many chances and possibilities. Women and children are also entitled to these possibilities. Hence, they ought to be able to explore the world of arts and science and technology. They ought to be able to explore frontiers and to be educated and to live life to the fullest. And children should be allowed to be children and be allowed to live free and happy and unencumbered by problems and challenges of the adult world. Children are not made for marriages and for sex and for the rigours and pains of marital life. They are children, nothing more!These are innocent beings. And innocent is what they ought to be until they are mentally and physiologically ready for what life and society will throw at them.

Child marriage has many disadvantages. There are no advantages. None! Besides the abuse, the neglect and the exploitation — many researches (in both western and nonwestern institutions, have shown that these young wives/captives would go on to contract, at a faster rate, sexually transmitted diseases, and the humanpapillomavirus which causes cervical cancer. And because their bodies are not fully formed and functional, sex may become severely painful and dangerous. And every pregnancy, at that early age, would be like playing the Russian Roulette (with risk to the mother and the foetus and, eventually, the baby). And according to the World Health Organisation, many would go on to develop obstetric fistula (a hole in the birth canal).

Considering the inhumanities that are associated with child marriage, therefore, we cannot but help to bring it to an end. No religious, social or cultural argument makes sense. None! As with poverty and diseases and female genital mutilation, we must endeavour to end child marriages. All hands must be on deck – and these include the civil society, individuals and the government.

As you think about this issue, please remember the words of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund: “Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects. A girl who is married as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled. Since many parents and communities also want the very best for their daughters, we must work together and end child marriage.”

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