The girl-bride debate in Nigeria

Posted by News Express | 10 October 2019 | 545 times

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Some years ago, a hot debate engulfed Nigerians of all ethnicities which is centred on the right age of marriage for the female population. The topic was the concern of callers to the late-night national discussion programme, ‘Tuesday Live’ on Nigeria Television Authority (NTA).

Expectedly, the first respondent, Zainab, who coincidentally was the Minister for Women Affairs, evaded the question by referring it to the legislature. Nkechi Mba, the President of the National Council for Women Societies (NCWS) opposed early marriage because of the rights of the girl to education and complications of Vesico vaginal fistula (VVF) which is prevalent in Northern Nigeria, where girl marriage is more rampant.

Auwal Rafsanjani – one wonders what a Nigerian is doing bearing an Iranian-sounding name!!!! – narrowed the situation to individual choice, and alluded to state legislature having the powers to determine the law depending on societal expectations and dynamics.

Zainab was eventually taken down by another caller who insisted on her response. Her response was in support of girl education at least up to secondary school level, so the girl’s pregnancy will be devoid of VVF. Zainab was being true to her cultural upbringing – evade, if that fails, support, but pretend at all times.

The position of this author to the issue:

The quandary is not child marriage, but adult irresponsibility. If parents of young girls were responsible to their daughters, they will resolve or stipulate that their daughter continue her education during marriage. Instead, parents who conduct young girl marriage have no regard for education, let alone girl education.

Secondly, any lip service parents might pay to education ends abruptly the moment a wealthy or financially independent suitor seeks the hand of their daughter. Relative to the financial circumstance of parents, a more prosperous spouse is more lucrative than education.

Several years ago, when this author learnt of the marriage of a Senator to a female primary school leaver, the response was: She will become another illiterate.

Girl marriage is not an impediment to girl education. Culture and personal prejudice are the real obstacles to women progress. Neither is girl marriage a certification for vesico-vaginal fistula which is a complication of prolonged labour during which, and due to the pressure of the uterus – womb on the organs of the lower abdomen, a part of the tissues of the bladder, large intestine, etc, is eroded or perforated.

This is detected and corrected immediately through a surgical operation in a hospital during the childbirth process. VVF cases that gain attention are those of pregnancies without antenatal care and labour away from any hospital.

Very many years ago, on coming across a women’s hospital in a city in Northern Nigeria, this author wondered:

Who utilises these hospitals? In Northern Nigeria, healthcare rivals education in terms of scorn from indigenous persons. If the average resident in the metropolis has a disdain for healthcare, one can imagine the mental state of villagers.

In addition, if healthcare within easy accessibility receives a low patronage relative to the female and child population of the city, are villagers expected to make use of a healthcare service located miles away, and on poor transport?

Some, if not all, states of Northern Nigeria run free healthcare for expectant mothers and children under five years old.

The Federal Government has similar healthcare programmes. What is the percentage of utilisation? To complicate matters for the woman or girl who has a case of VVF, her husband absconds. The husband cannot bear to live with a woman whose organs leak urine and faeces, never mind the leakage occurred during the birth of his child. One can only imagine whether he was even present during the protracted labour to experience blood, urine, faeces, and much more.

A question to parents:

Do you derive pleasure from marrying your daughter to a self-centred man?

A better question is:

Do you feel a sense of accomplishment you married your daughter to a man who shares your lack of responsibility?

Those parents and the runaway husband exhibit one striking similarity: their disregard for the welfare of the bride.

The proper solution to girl marriage is the same solution to adult female marriage - education.

The girl must be educated:

1. on her rights and freedoms

2. to make her own choices

3. to identify her interests

4. to discover her values

5. to express her concerns to her husband

6. to disagree with – and yes, disobey – her husband

7. to seek help from her parents or trusted persons

8. to end the marriage, if proceeding with the marriage ceases to be in her interest.

All of these must occur before marriage.

It is futile and inane to train girls and women to value only what conform to cultural expectations and personal bias. The much-touted education should not be a mere rubberstamp for cultural misogyny.

When the female receives education, that education cannot render her incapable of determining right from wrong. It is a right for a girl to be married when she wishes. It is wrong for so-called adults to abandon the girl to the whims of her husband.

•Umm Sulaim is the Publisher of Umm Sulaim’s Thoughts (

Copyright © 2019 Umm Sulaim. All rights reserved.

Source: News Express

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