Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
The international campaign against child labor and marriage is a worthy one that demands the concerted effort of all. A child girl below the age of marriage influenced or forced into it, causing her moral, social and health hazards should be scan as a victim of violence most unnecessary and unacceptable. She is vulnerable to too many things that definitely often lead to her untimely death or at least, physical and social disabilities. This is a scourge that must be fought until it is totally eradicated.
Indeed, all societies must of moral necessity abhor such evil as domestic violence, child abuse, child-trafficking and prostitution, all of which are a debasement of human norms, values and dignity.
The echoes of these absurd phenomena have reverberated lately from diverse interests and concerns. Prominent among them were the, “2016 World Day Against Child Labour” forum and a conference organized by the National Population Commission (NPC) to mark the 2016 world Population Day with the theme: “Investing In Teenage Girls” in Abuja. Through its ministries of Labour and Productivity and Women Affairs as well as the National Population Commission, the Federal Government has articulated a master plan for a campaign to end child marriage in the country, especially in the northern part of Nigeria. This is not only a timely and welcome development, it shows the level of seriousness with which the nation views the scourge.
But emphasis must now be placed on the efficacy and inclusiveness of the campaign backed by necessary extant laws of the country. The National Assembly should therefore, come up with more effective laws for monitoring and sanctioning.
It is worrisome that statistical studies show that around the world, 10 percent of girls have been exposed to sex before the age of 15.
The pregnancies at that early age lead to debilitating complications of labour, pains and trauma at child birth which have resulted in the death on many even as many also go through unsafe abortions especially in the developing world. According to the NPC, data from the 2006 population and housing census indicate that Nigeria’s teenage population, aged 13-19, constitute about 14.6 percent of the total. Girls make up more than half of this. The pathetic picture has also been painted of under-aged girls not only given away in marriage but also living in reprehensible and ignoble conditions.
Demographic and health surveys in 2013 show that about most of the teenagers in rural areas begin child bearing before they are 18. However, there are disparities across the geopolitical zones as follows; North West (36 percent), North East (32 percent), North Central (19 percent), South South (12 percent), South-East (6 percent), and South West (8 percent). Apart from abortion and complications in pregnancy and childbirth, including versico virginal fistula, many of these girls die from other complications induced by their poor living conditions. With the mortality rate of teenage married girls and those in child labour so high, a vigorous campaign against the phenomenon must, indeed, be given top priority by the government.
The significant number of teenage girls who have been forced into marriage and had their health and future blighted constitute one of the challenges of modern times. In resigning to their fate, their education, human rights and future are destroyed.
This horrible even inhuman condition of such a girl child must be seen as the worst form of domestic violence.
This is the time for all Nigerians to stand up therefore for the appropriate family and societal values. And those who use religion as justification for the evil of child marriage stand corrected by all the holy books and teachings. Interestingly, Gambia, a predominantly Islamic country has recently set the right tone by banning child marriage.
The government’s recent efforts in mobilising the public against the evils of child marriage and child labour must be encouraged. Investment in education, especially in the rural areas must be priority and serious action against child labour should be one of the cardinal pursuits of the ruling government.