By Ekene Odigwe
Noura Hussein Hammad was forced to experience the misery of child marriage at the age of fifteen. Despite her refusal, she got married on paper to one of her relatives at 15 years old, and three years later the husband – along with her family insisted to complete the official wedding ceremony.
Miss Hammad escaped to stay with her aunt in Sinnar city in Sudan to avoid her fate, but was deceived by her father who convinced her to return, claiming that the family stopped the marriage ceremony. Upon her return, she was surprised with the preparations of her own wedding which ended up happening against her will. She went to Khartoum with her husband and stayed in an apartment in Mohandiseen as part of their honeymoon. Noura refused to consummate the marriage for five days and on the sixth day, her husband brought his brother and cousins and they held her while he raped her.
The next day, on May 3rd 2017, the husband tried to rape her again, but she stood up to him and stabbed him in the back with a knife that he brought into the bedroom to threaten her into sleeping with him. After she stabbed him, she ran to her family’s home where she confessed her crime. Her father took her to the police station. Subsequently, her family abandoned her, never visited her or provided any support. On April 19th 2018, Noura was charged under article 130 of the criminal act and on the 10th of May 2018 sentenced to death. Some activist lawyers are appealing her case.
This is the most recent scenario out of the Sudan, a country in Northern Africa that is fifth on international ranking of Child marriage rates; statistics from UNICEF in 2017 shows that 9 per cent were married off at 15 while 52 per cent were married by 18, impling that approximately 1 in 3 girls in the Sudan are married before their 18th birthday.
In the same vein, Nurah Mohammed, 35, was arrested after he tried to kill his 13 year-old wife Ai’sha. His young bride had angered him by fleeing their home to stay with her mother after enduring years of abuse from her husband and mother-in-law. Nurah came to the mother’s house to kill Ai’sha for leaving their home, and ended up stabbing Ai’sha’s grandmother multiple times as she tried to defend her granddaughter. Ai’sha was engaged to Nurah when she was only a 1-year-old and was married at 9. As a premature bride, she lacked the skills to be a proper wife, which resulted in the abuse she received. Ai’sha’s mother, Latifah, said, ‘I kept my daughter at my house and hoped to explain to my son-in-law why he should not beat her, but he barged into the house and tried to kill her.”
Well, in Nigeria the story is not so different as 43 per cent of girls are married off before their 18th birthday. 17 per cent are married before they turn 15. According to UNICEF State of the World’s Children 2017 report, Nigeria currently sits at international ranking of 11 on Child marriage rates though the prevalence of child marriage varies widely from one region to another, with figures as high as 76 per cent in the North West region and as low as 10 per cent in the South East. Available data shows a 9 per cent decline in the prevalence of child marriage since 2003. However action is still needed to prevent thousands of girls from being married in the coming years.
In the eastern part of Nigeria for instance, there’s a saying, “ogo bu chi onye”, literary meaning that someone’s in-law is his god. It is so because they believe those in-laws bring succour and that can only be an act of god. That’s why at a tender age the girl child training is restricted to the home.
Child marriage affects the achievement of at least six of the Sustainable Development Goals. Child marriage violates girls’ rights to health, education and opportunity. It exposes the girl child to violence throughout her life and traps her in a cycle of poverty. The indigenous African traditional system restricts the education of the girl child to the well-known form of informal domestic education in which she receives training at home on hygiene, cooking, laundry and general home management. Some parents would easily give their girl child’s hand in marriage to some older, wealthier man believing that the marriage will bring some economic gains their way.
Apart from obvious reasons of poverty, other factors responsible for child bride include traditional practices, religious or customary laws and social/ family honour. According to the UN, 37,000 girls under the age of 18 are married off each day. One in three girls in the developing world are married before 18 and one in nine are married before the age of 15. If the present trend continues, more than 140 million girls would be married before the age of 18 in the next decade.
The world now have the greatest number of married girls and girls at-risk of child marriage than ever before.
Child marriage effectively ends a girl’s childhood, curtails her ability of acquiring education, minimizes her economic opportunities, increases her risk of domestic violence, and puts her at risk of early, frequent, and very high-risk pregnancies with deteriorating health conditions. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s and face higher risk of pregnancy-related injuries, such as obstetric fistula. Child brides are often unable to negotiate safer sexual practices and are therefore at a higher risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The negative consequences of child marriage reach beyond the girls themselves: children of child brides are 60 percent more likely to die in the first year of life than those born to mothers older than 19, and families of child brides are more likely to be poor and unhealthy.
Interestingly, UNICEF shows that worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children. 17 per cent of them, or 125 million, live in Africa and for a place like The Sudan where child bride are sold for cows with the refusal resulting in a death sentence like in the case of Noura, one can only imagine what will be the possibility of achieving the 17 SDGs with its 169 subsections.
With inadequate legal framework and the state of a country’s civil registration system in place, the implementation of African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child is only but a dream. In 2003, Nigeria signed the International Human Rights Convention agreement on the rights of child. It was officially passed into law in 2003 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as the Children’s Rights Act 2003 (CRA). It was created to serve as a legal documentation and protection of Children rights and responsibilities in Nigeria but the question is what is been done to implement it? Many states in the country are yet to recognise, not to talk of implementing the law.
So in order to achieve sustainable development goals and meet the aspirations of Agenda 2063 that envisions the “Africa We Want”, Africa must accelerate and increase strategic investments in its young people no matter their sex or gender and rebuild our women especially the girl child. Government and civil society organisations should make plans of taking this message to the grassroots, invite all stakeholders: from high influencers / low interest to low influencers/ high interest groups to the table. Training and seminars should be organized for religious leaders, town union presidents’ general, traditional rulers and the media. Empowerment programmes, hygiene education, family planning training need to be coordinated for the girls already trapped in this cycle. They should be nurtured as children that they are, allowed to be children and not brides.
@Ekeneodigwe is OAP @coalcity929fm Advocate @afrikaYM Fellow @YALINetwork
SDGs Champion & Social media campaigner #Activista with 7 honours & 3 Fellowship awards