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Child husbands, underage mothers: How ‘untimely’ marriage affects a child

Under normal circumstances, marriage is a union between two adults who share the same passion and are ready to face life together.

However, for  many underage persons, especially those from poor homes, the story is different, as their parents or relatives force them to marry partners other than the ones they love.

Forced marriage

Child bride
Zara Umar

Forced marriage is when you face physical pressure to marry (for example, threats, physical violence or sexual violence) or emotional and psychological pressure (e.g. if you’re made to feel like you’re bringing shame on your family).

Mostly in this kind of relationship, spouses tend to neglect their primary roles of pro- creation, nursing and upbringing because of hatred.

Women are mostly affected in force marriages.

Child marriage

Forced marriage is closely related to child marriage because, usually, females, especially young, underage and economically dis-empowered females, usually fall victim of child marriage.

Bauchi, Northeast Nigeria, happens to be one of the areas of the country where forced marriage still thrives, as reported by our correspondence.

Child marriage is particularly common among Nigeria’s poorest, rural households and the Hausa ethnic group –World bank

The  United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, reports that child marriage – that is marriage before the age of 18 – is a human rights violation. Despite laws against it, the harmful practice remains widespread.

Child marriage and domestic violence

Experts warn that child marriage can lead to a lifetime of suffering, as girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence.

Young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s, and their children are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life.

Zara Umar is a 16-years old girl from Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area of Bauchi state who was forced to marry at age 15 to a boy age 17. Her husband was a 100 Level student with no means of livelihood.

Troubling statistics

A World Bank document states that 43% of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday and 16% are married before the age of 15.

Nigeria reportedly has the 11th highest prevalence of child marriage in the world, and the third highest absolute number of women married or in a union before the age of 18 in the world – 3,742,000.

43% of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday and 16% are married before the age of 15.

Underage husbands

Meanwhile, it is not only girls that suffer underage marriage, as evidenced by our correspondent and also as corroborated by the World Bank, which states that three percent of boys in Nigeria are married before the age of 18.

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A young bride

The Bank laments that child marriage is most common in the North West and North East of Nigeria, where 68% and 57% of women aged 20-49 were married before their 18th birthday. Child marriage is particularly common among Nigeria’s poorest, rural households and the Hausa ethnic group.

A 2017 World Bank/ICRW study estimated that ending child marriage could generate Nigeria an additional $7.6 billion in earnings and productivity.

‘Why we married off our underage daughter’

Though in love with the boy, the two were not ready for marriage. Indeed, as narrated to our correspondent,  the young Zara was “stubborn,” according to her parents, and they decided that the best thing for them was to marry her off “before she brings disgrace to the family.”

Zara only stayed for a month with her husband, however, describing her life as a misery. She also laments that she has missed out on school and is being regarded now as a divorcee.

“Just look at me, I look older than my age; my friends are in school and I’m at home doing nothing but lamenting over my plight.”

She has a word for parents: “I want to advise parents to listen to their children and stop this habit of forcing them into marriage.”

She said that her elder sister was also forced to marry someone who was 25 years older than her. She, too, left after four kids and has so far been married thrice.

“I thought they would have learnt a lesson from my sister’s marriage, but they obviously didn’t. The most painful part is that my dad was a teacher and my mum a nurse.”

‘Your cousin is your husband’

To Summayia from Yelwan Shendam in Plateau State, her family wanted her to marry her cousin, which didn’t go down well with her.

“Why should I be forced to marry my relation when I have someone I love? she cried.

“I had introduced my man to them, but they said he was not good for me because he is a driver.

three percent of boys in Nigeria are married before the age of 18

“I ran away with the one I love and got pregnant for him in the process. Today, I have additional mouth to cater for as he has left me. See where I live now, just look at me; no good clothes and I’m suffering.”

‘I’ve wasted my life’

Summayia currently lives at a place where commercial sex workers live and survives from benevolence of a man who wants to adopt her child.

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“I want to go back home, but my people wouldn’t accept my child. I’m caught between handing over my child to someone else or stay and never go back home.

“My regret is how I have wasted my life and wish others don’t fall victim.”

The story is same with 21-year old Zeezee who dropped out of the university at 200 Level because her aunt, who was her guardian, wanted her to get married.

“I’m from Plateau State but I live with my aunt in Gombe after the death of my parents. She wanted me to marry someone she brought, but I refused,

“Since then, whenever suitors came, she would tell them that I was a prostitute and they would leave. I had to run away from her oppression and I now live with my elder sister.”

Hafsat Moddibo from Gamboru Gala, a market town in Borno State, ran from home and is now living at Bayan Garin, a place usually associated with commercial sex workers, and spends her day doing menial jobs.

“I didn’t want to marry the person I was asked to. My stepmother didn’t like me and just wanted to marry me off,” Hafsat alleged.

‘I feel like killing myself’

However, child bride Amina Saidu is still living with the man she was forced to marry

“I love and respect my parents; that’s why I’m still in the marriage. I’m not happy, but I have no option.”

Continuing, Amina said, “Where will I go with five children? Each time I look at my husband, I feel like killing myself. This anger against him has also been transferred to my children.”

She said that forced marriage is what she will not put any of her children into and urged parents to always talk with their children.

Bauchi Govt to the rescue

Hope is not entirely lost, though, as the Bauchi State Sharia Commission regularly trains affected women on skills acquisition, while those who wish to return to their families are assisted with transport fare.

Again, the state government has criminalized forced marriage under the Violence Against Persons Prohibition VAPP Law 2022.

It may be recalled that the Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, last December 9, signed into law the amended Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Law 2021, which now includes the death penalty.

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