Child Bride and the SDGs in Africa.

Ekene Odigwe

Africa as part of the global village joined the world to commemorate Day of Girls or as it has come to be known International Day of the Girl child. October 11, presents us with an opportunity to show support for girls and increase awareness of gender inequality faced by girls worldwide based upon their gender.  

Noura Hussein Hammad was forced to experience the misery of child marriage at the age of fifteen. Despite her refusal, she got married on paper to one of her relatives at 15 years old, and three year later the husband – along with her family insisted to complete the official wedding ceremony. Miss Hammad escaped to stay with her aunt in Sinnar city to avoid her fate, but was deceived by her father who convinced her to return, claiming that the family stopped the marriage ceremony.

Upon her return, was surprised with the preparations of her own wedding which ended up happening against her will. She went to Khartoum with her husband and stayed in an apartment in Mohandiseen as part of their honeymoon. Noura refused to consummate the marriage for five days and on the sixth day, her husband brought his brother and cousins and they held her while he raped her. The next day, on May 3rd 2017, the husband tried to rape her again, but she stood up for herself and stabbed him in the back with a knife that he brought into the bedroom to threaten her into sleeping with him. After she stabbed him in different parts of his body, she ran to her family’s home where she admitted what she had done. Her father took her to the police station. Subsequently, her family abandoned her, never visited her or provided any support. On April 19th 2018, Noura was charged under article 130 of the criminal act and on the 10th of May 2018 sentenced to death and some activist lawyers are appealing her case.

This is the most recent scenario in The Sudan a country in Northern Africa that is number 5 on International ranking of Child marriage rates, statistics from UNICEF in 2017 show that 9% were married off by their 15 years while 52% were married by 18, this implies that approximately 1 in 3 girls in the Sudan are married before their 18th birthday.

In Nigeria, the story is not different as 43% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday. 17% are married before they turn 15. According to UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017 report, Nigeria currently sits at international ranking of 11 on Child marriage rates though the prevalence of child marriage varies widely from one region to another, with figures as high as 76% in the North West region and as low as 10% in the South East. Available Data shows a 9% decline in the prevalence of child marriage since 2003, however, action is still needed to prevent thousands of girls from being married in the coming years.

Child marriage directly hinders the achievement of at least six of the Sustainable Development Goals. Child marriage violates girls’ rights
to health, education and opportunity. It exposes girls to violence throughout their lives, and traps them in a cycle of poverty. The indigenous African traditional system restricts the education of the girl child to the well-known form of informal domestic education in which she receives training at home on hygiene, cooking, laundry and general home management. Some parents would easily give their girl child’s hand in marriage to some older wealthier man believing that the marriage will bring some economic gains their way.

Nurah Mohammed, 35, was arrested after he tried to kill his 13 year-old wife Ai’sha. His young bride had angered him by fleeing their home to stay with her mother after enduring years of abuse from her husband and mother-in-law. Nurah came to the mother’s house to kill Ai’sha for leaving their home, and ended up stabbing Ai’sha’s grandmother multiple times as well when she tried to cover Ai’sha with her body to protect her.

Ai’sha was engaged to Nurah when she was only a 1-year-old and was married at 9. As a premature bride, she lacked the skills to be a proper wife, which resulted in the abuse she received. Ai’sha’s mother, Latifah, said, ‘I kept my daughter at my house and hoped to explain to my son-in-law why he should not beat her, but he barged into the house and tried to kill her.”

In the eastern part of Nigeria, there’s a saying “ogo bu chi onye” literary meaning that someone’s in-law is his god. It is so because they believe those in-laws bring succour and that can only be an act of god. This is majorly economic succour that’s why at a tender age they restrict the training at home.

Father of a bride, Obi Oko, 60, said he is unhappy giving his daughter away at such a young age, but has no choice due to severe poverty. ‘I am very poor and have many problems,’ Obi Oko said. ‘I need money and I have three other daughters. Do you think I want to marry my daughter so young?’ the daughter Nnenna is 9 and married off to 58 year old Dimgba.

Apart from obvious reasons of poverty, major factors are responsible for child bride; these include traditional practices, religious or customary laws and social/ family honour. According to the UN, 37,000 girls under the age of 18 are married each day. We now have the greatest number of married girls and girls at-risk of child marriage than ever before, therefore 1 in 3 girls in the developing world are
married before 18 and 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15. If the present trend continues, more than 140 million girls would be married before the age of 18 in the next decade.

Though some believe that this idea is fast becoming a thing of the past considering the ever-dynamic nature of people and culture all over the world, these recent stories beg to differ. It is not becoming a thing of the past rather it is becoming less pronounced but still in effect. These are just few recorded stories around here, a lot of persons are scared of speaking up, and they have been told that “ala”
the god of the land will strike them dead if they dare tell anyone, so they just keep enduring the violence, the trauma, the agony and the evil it brings. Child marriage violates the rights of children; it affects both boys and girls, but it is more common among girls and child brides are also subject to extreme domestic and sexual abuse, causing psychological, physical harm and dangerous pregnancies.

Recent research by UNICEF shows that worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children. 17% of them, or 125 million, live in Africa and for a place like The Sudan where Child bride are sold for cows with the refusal resulting in a death sentence like in the case of Noura one can only imagine what will be the possibility of achieving the 17 SDGs with its 169 subsections.

With inadequate legislative framework and the state of a country’s civil registration system in place, the implementation of African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child is only but a dream. In 2003, Nigeria signed the International Human Rights convention agreement on the rights of child. It was officially passed into law in 2003 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as the Children’s Rights
Act 2003 (CRA). It was created to serve as a legal documentation and protection of Children’s rights and responsibilities in Nigeria but the question is has the law been implemented especially as it concerns
child marriage?

Understanding that all these goals are interconnected and to achieve one is to achieve all. It dawns on us all that we cannot cheery pick any one and tweaks it to suit our narrative and then ignore the rest.
Child marriage effectively ends a girl’s childhood, curtails her ability of acquiring education, minimizes her economic opportunities, increases her risk of domestic violence, and puts her at risk of
early, frequent, and very high-risk pregnancies with deteriorating health conditions. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s and face higher risk of pregnancy-related injuries, such as obstetric fistula.

Child brides are often unable to negotiate safer sexual practices and are therefore at a higher risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The negative consequences of child marriage reach beyond the girls themselves: children of child brides are 60 percent more likely to die in the first year of life than those born to mothers older than 19, and families of child brides are more likely to be poor
and unhealthy

So in order to achieve sustainable development goals and meet the aspirations of Agenda 2063 that envisions the “Africa We Want”, Africa must accelerate and increase strategic investments in its young people no matter their sex or gender and rebuild our women especially our girl children. Offer them protection from discrimination, violence against women and forced child marriage . Our judicial institutions should do better, embrace what is coming and begin to restructure to protect our children, and bridge the gap of inequality access to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care.
Government and civil society organisations should make plans of taking this message to the grassroots, invite all stakeholders: from high influencers / low interest to low influencers/ high interest groups to
the table. Training and seminars should be organized for Religious leaders, Town union Presidents’ general, Traditional rulers and the Media. Empowerment programmes, hygiene education, family planning training need to be coordinated for the girls already trapped in this cycle. They should be nurtured as children that they are, allowed to be children and not brides.