Success story of changes in girls’ attitudes to early marriage in Northern Nigeria

Early marriage has been a longing problem among communities of northern Nigeria. The age at which girls are given out in marriage is an important determinant of their future lives and health. Women are physically and psychologically ready to start child bearing at certain age than at others. In some communities especially in rural areas and among the urban poor early marriage is a rule rather than an exception. Girls are married from the age of 11-17 depending on their physical stature and other factors. Once girls are married, the culture of leaving them to mature before beginning child bearing is no longer fashionable as such; girls married start childbearing at the age of 15-19 years.

Islam prohibits pre-marital sex and the preservation of virginity has strong social relevance. Parents ensure that their female children’s social security is protected, by marrying them up at a tender age when they are in their early adolescence. This is in an attempt to prevent them from sexual promiscuity and premarital pregnancies that can damage the image of that of the entire family.

Early marriage is also closely related to the body build of the girls. If a girl is physically grown up, she stands the “chance” of getting someone to marry her. It is socially unacceptable for a person to allow his daughter to grow (up to 16-17 years) in his house. She is considered as leftover (kwantai) and the person will lose his public respect; it is also a sign of failure not to marry one’s daughter married as soon as they are 12-13 years old.

People, who are poor however, delay the marriage of their daughters because of the costs involved and they are subject to public scolding for the delay. (Adamu, 2003) Although girls are allowed as their male counterparts to attend Qur’anic schools and to get Islamic education, it is not the same with Western education school which have time frame of twelve years (6-3-3) In communities where there is poor access or negative perception about western education schools, girls who are not in primary or secondary school, the chances of delaying her marriage under the guise of schooling are not there. Parents who have their girls in school sometimes use the schooling to delay their marriage arguing that ‘sai ta gama makaranta’ So, leaving the girls without school only exposes them to the marriage square.

The dangers of marrying girls early are many, key among them are:

(a) It leads to child bearing and increase their risk to maternal morbidity such as Vesico-Vaginal Fistula (VVF) and Rcto Vaginal Fistula (RVF)

(b) It leads to high fertility and poor health.

(c) Increase their chances of dying are many folds that of their counterparts living in elsewhere

(d) Lifetime dependency on the husband and inability to have economic freedom

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