In the past 25 years, June 16 every year is celebrated as the Day of the African Child in memory of hundreds of innocent South African children who were massacred on the 16th of June 1976 by the then South African police.
Every year, we celebrate this day with different themes based on issues that concern children. The theme of this year’s celebration is very dear to me: Accelerating our collective effort to end child marriage in Africa. It’s one of the issues my movie ‘DRY‘ addresses, and something I have been very passionate about for many years.
Child marriage is defined as a marital union with a person under the age of 18years. Child marriage is a fundamental violation of human right, it leads to life time disadvantage and deprivation. Many girls are married off by their parents without their free and full consent. Most times they are married off to men old enough to be their fathers or grand fathers as 3rd or 4th wives.
Child marriage is condemned because the child is still growing and parts of her body and reproductive organs especially are not fully developed. The child is not psychologically matured to run a home; it denies the child the right to basic and qualitative education, deny them the opportunity to gain vocational and life skills , the child is exposed to health risk due to early pregnancy, child bearing and motherhood. It marks an abrupt transition into sexual relations without consent which is rape, sexual violence and abuse.
The child remains timid due to age difference, not able to make choices, develops low self esteem, self worth and low self confidence. Child marriage is a complex issue that is driven by a lot of factors in different society. It has a devastating and long term effect on the health, education, psychological, emotional mental physical development and future of the girl child.
Irrespective of the laws condemning child marriage as violation of the rights of the girl child, it is still practiced in our country. The Child Right Act of 2003 sets the national legal minimum age of marriage at 18years some states are yet to adhere.
Report has it that 43% of girls in Nigeria are married off before their 18th birthday, 17% are married off before they turn 15. The prevalence of child marriage varies widely from one zone to the other, with figures as high as 76% in the North West zone.(UNFPA 2012,UNICEF SWCR 2013 )
You’d be surprised to note that in Lagos state where people of all Nigerian tribes reside, child marriage is still being practiced in some local governments and communities. Action is needed to prevent thousands of girls from being married out before age of 18.
On this day of the African child, I urge us all to contribute our quota in stopping this act for good. Its our collective responsibility.