Armed violence, conflict, poverty and climate-related shocks are blocking progress on progressive attempts to end the marriage of young girls to older men, Save The Children International (SCI) have said.
In an analysis titled ‘Girl On The Frontline’ published to commemorate the annual International Day Of The Girl Child, the organisation found that girls living in a humanitarian crisis are 20 per cent more likely to be child brides than those born in peaceful areas.
Abject poverty across West and Central Africa, as well as humanitarian crises, puts pressure on families to resort to marrying off female children very young, the report says.
It is a story all too familiar across Northern Nigeria.
Cycle of coercion
HumAngle spoke to Hajara, a mother of four who lives in Kano State, Northwest Nigeria. Hajara was forced into marriage by her father, aged only 13.
She is determined to break the generational cycle of coercion and prevent what happened to her from happening to her own children.
She told HumAngle how her father married her off to a 50-year-old man without her or her mother’s consent. Her family lived in a poor neighbourhood of Kano and her father saw the marriage as a way to improve the family’s status.
“He was older than my father and all my uncles. My father’s plan was to have a bloodline with the man because he was influential,” she said.
When Hajara’s mother found out, she protested and Hajara’s father threatened to divorce her. She remembers how her mother went back to her own parents house in protest and how she came back advising Hajara to just obey her father’s wishes.
Hajara says her maternal grandparents were the ones who persuaded her mother to drop her objections.
Now 40 and divorced from the man, she says her life married to him was full of physical abuse, “There was a time he accused me of infidelity and attempted to strangle me. Neighbours intervened and he proceeded to divorce me.”
Hajara bore four daughters before she parted ways with her ex-husband. She tells HumAngle that her daughter’s decision to marry would be theirs solely and she encourages them to finish their secondary education before they decide.
Although Hajara does not want what happened to her to happen to her children, the practice is still widespread across Nigeria.
The Child’s Right Act, forbidding child marriages has been domesticated in different southern states of the country for almost 20 years, but the Northwest and Northeast states are yet to agree to apply it.
Nearly three-quarters, 44 per cent, of girls in northern Nigeria are said to be married before they turn 18. The proportion of girls married before they turn 15 is 48 per cent, almost half.
When pressure from climate-related disasters hits, high rates of child marriages are often present.
For example drought-hit countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia also experience high rates of child marriages. A similar report showed that child marriages have more than doubled in one year.
Parents or guardians seek dowries to help support other members of the family, or, in some instances, take girls out of the household so there would be fewer mouths to feed.
Commitments to end child marriage have suffered throuout the globe due to conflicts, worsening climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the globe celebrates the 10th anniversary of International Day of the Girl, SCI called on governments, communities, the United Nations including civil society organisations (CSOs) to increase funding and efforts to address violence against girls through focusing on child protection in humanitarian crises.
The analysis also recommends that engaging men, boys, paternal figures and traditional rulers to end child marriage is essential to efforts made. This is so social norms and systems that enable child marriages can be eliminated.
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