Eyes teary. Knees weak. Stomach growling. A young girl parades around the street selling bananas. Her only way out? To get married to the senator who is more than thirty years her senior and already has a house inundated with wives and children – many of them the same age as her.
Any twist of fate and that could have been me four years ago. About week ago, I turned 17. In my home country Nigeria, I am not allowed to drive, drink, or to vote, but the Nigerian Senate has recently passed a bill that allows me to get married, or like in most cases involving children, be sold off for marriage.
Underage marriage had been occurring for years in mostly northern parts of Nigeria, where the majority of Muslims reside. These northern states have refused to adopt the Child’s Rights Act, which bans child marriage. Now, this same group wants to spread their perverted beliefs and practices about child marriage to the whole country.
It all started with the consideration of Section 29 of the constitution. The Senate had already voted to remove section (b), that any woman is deemed of age when married, because it allowed women to renounce their citizenship at a younger age. But a senator raised objection based on the premise that removing this would be “un-Islamic.” He managed to get that of the constitution restored. Thus, the Child Rights Act can be overruled for female children, since they are no longer children when they get married.
Not that it really made a difference when the Child Rights Act was in place, to begin with. The aforementioned girl was taken from Egypt and married off to Senator Yerima when she was just 13. This man should be rotting in prison, but he walks free. Instead of having to pay N500,000 for pay the penalty for his misdeeds, he used it to buy a young girl. He used it to buy her body, her innocence, and her dreams.
This should not be happening. Not in Nigeria, and not anywhere else. People argue that it’s a better fate than dying in poverty, but for whom? They forget the other ways to get a young girl out of poverty, such as a good education and good health care. They forget that a girl could have a chance to be so much better and even to change the world if they would just stay in school rather than in an old man’s house. These girls would go to school and increase their value, their income, and then invest in their families. They would be able to raise healthy and educated children.
This practice destroys young girls’ rights to dream, to be healthy, to be educated, to be secure, and ultimately, to live a long and fulfilled life. Nigeria has more than 800,000 fistula cases (more than any in the world) – a condition that leaves a hole between the rectum and the vulva, which results from early marriage.These girls suffer and die during childbirth and deal with a range of diseases simply because they are made to have children while still children. They are not emotionally or physically ready to have kids but they are forced to do so. They are raped consistently. Their children are born malnourished and with a greater mortality rate.
Is this how we want to start our new generation? Do we want to add more children into this cycle of poverty, disease and illiteracy? Child marriage does not destroy the cycle – it starts another one. Vote here to try and end it.