Early and forced marriage is a scourge endemic in our societies. This can be defined as the betrothal or forced marriage of a girl at a very early age. Round the world the age of adulthood is 18 years and in some countries 16.Therefore any marriage under these globally accepted age range when her genitals and reproductive organs are still tender and unable to withstand the rigors of sexual and reproductive processes could be termed early marriage. 1 in 3 girls in the developing world are married before or by their 18th birthday. This can end their chance of completing an education and puts them at greater risk of isolation and violence. For girls under 15 the incidence of early and forced marriage is 1 in 9. Some are married as young as five years old. Victims of early and forced marriage typically have children very young. Approximately 70,000 girls die in labour every year because their bodies aren’t ready for childbirth.

This issue is very serious howbeit controversial as a lot of people and some of our leaders so to say still indulge in it. However just as the Holy Book says “Must we continue in sin that grace may abound”? I will take a cue from the Scriptures and say “Must we keep quiet on this simply because some people including our leaders still indulge in them?

I recently watched a movie DRY by Stephnie Okereke Linus. The movie highlighted the negative effects of this scourge. The challenges faced by child brides who are struggling with VVF (Vesico vaginal fistula) which is the damage of the fistulous tract extending between the bladder and the vagina that allows the continuous involuntary discharge of urine by a female into the vaginal vault, caused by early child birth.

Early and forced marriages exist in every part of the world. However in Nigeria, it is more prevalent in the Northern part of the Country. The negative effects of early and forced marriages are far reaching and requires urgent attention and commitment from both citizens and government alike.

The movie “Dry” told the story of a little girl Halima who was married off against her will at the tender age of thirteen years. Shortly after, she became pregnant but lost her baby due to lack of proper antenatal care. She also developed the disease called “Vesico vaginal fistula” because of the tenderness of her reproductive organs due to her young age.

Consequently, she experienced horrendous humiliation and eventually death. I cried. There I was thinking I was being overly emotional until i realized that a great majority of the audience were emotion laden too.

Here’s an extracts from Charlie boy’s review of the movie

“What can a full grown man see as a sexual attraction to a 12yr old girl young enough to be one’s granddaughter?”
What joy do men derive from sex with children? Why are some parents still giving away their little girls to very old men who should be put to pasture for marriage?

Did I hear you say culture? Is it not about time we get rid of certain parts of our culture? Especially those that portray women as subservient house fixtures who are toys that can be used for the satisfaction of selfish pleasures. Their fundamental rights conveniently forgotten.

Is it not high time we look around and see that the world has since moved on from these barbaric acts?

Randy old men should please allow children enjoy their childhood and not damage them physically and emotionally.

There is a lot to be done.

Kudos Stephanie for a job well done. I hear you loud and clear…

We can keep talking about it however it would not augur well to just highlight the problems without proffering some possible solutions to this anomaly. The list is inexhaustible but I will highlight some which we need to undertake as soon as possible in Nigeria, West Africa, Africa and the World at large to address this scourge.

Education! Education! Education.-This is key. Wives, Mothers, Grandmothers, Fathers, Grandfathers, Husbands, Uncles Aunties, Communities all have to be constantly educated on the effects of early and forced marriage. Education is crucial to reducing the incidence of early and forced marriage.

This means improving access to quality education for girls, and also educating the wider community to change the social norms that enable forced marriage to continue.
Free and compulsory education initiative must be developed so that by the time the girl child is done with education possibly to Secondary School level, she might have attained a certain level of Maturity. They need to understand that culture evolves in relation to present day realities.

Trainings, constant coaching and monitoring of traditional midwives.- More often than not, the people of a particular culture or community are more comfortable with indigenous midwives. Rather than total eradication of these untrained women as advocated in some quarters, proper training and coaching is a viable and more progressive option. This will go a long way in reducing child mortality.

Government commitment.- Policies and laws have to be put in place to checkmate these acts with criminal sanctions imposed on offenders. Policy direction from our leaders (senators, the people’s representatives, ministers, state governors, heads of government agencies etc) regardless of whose ox is gored will send a strong message on this scourge .

Public outcry.- another viable tool that can be aimed at its amelioration.
The role of Civil Society Organizations, Development Partners, Non Governmental Organizations and International Governmental Organizations in adocacy cannot be underplayed in this war. channeling constructive efforts here will produce unprecedented positive results as was the case with polio in Nigeria where all hands were on deck.

Regular consultations with faith based organizations.- Religion is a core factor that must be taken into consideration. a framework has to be developed to subtly engage here and prevail on this issue.

In conclusion Early and forced marriage is a violation of human rights that destroys girls’ childhoods and women’s lives. It has to end. The larger responsibility lies on the entire populace and must be made PRIORITY by all and sundry.

Ojugo or Ojay as he is fondly called is a consultant and an analyst. He tweets @gentleojay