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Early Marriage and the State of Adolescent Girls in Kano State, Nigeria (Part 1)

Written By: Nura Iro Maaji
January 29, 2010

 

This post is part one of a two part series. On Monday, we will publish Nura’s policy recommendations for eradicating early and forced marriage.

Based on my knowledge and experience as a young person from Kano, Nigeria, I’m alarmed by the dangers of early and forced marriage as it affects the lives of my peers in the state.

Let me share the experience of a girl who, at just 16 years old, was married recently to a man who is in his 40s. This situation should give you a clear picture on the impetus behind most parents’ decision in Kano to give their daughters out for marriage while they are under 18 years old:

When the man first contacted the girl, she rejected him. He then decided to inform her mother about his intentions, and about what her daughter said to him. The mother assured him of her cooperation and insisted that she responded to him that way because she is a girl. When the mother talked to her daughter to convince her to accept the man, the girl turned the offer down and insisted that her education is her only priority. The mother responded to her by saying in Hausa: “…ba kya ganin ya na da halin da zai iya kula mun da ke, ko kin fiso in barki haka kiyi ta yawon gantali a gari akan gidan mijinki”. This translates to English as, “Don’t you see that he is a business man and he can take a good care of you for me, or do you want me to allow you to be going round the street just like that instead of you being in your husband’s home.” The girl still didn’t accept the offer, and insisted on pursuing her education, but the mother decided to go ahead with her plan anyway.

Though the girl’s parents were separated, when her father was informed about the issue he encouraged her mother to go ahead with the plan of getting their daughter married to the man, even though it was not in accordance with her interests. After getting married, she tried to run away from her new husband’s home, but her parents took her back and insisted that she must stay, or find another place to live. Her dream of getting admission to a diploma program became a forgone issue.

Another noteworthy story comes from the experience of a girl I knew who got married to an eighteen year old boy when she was thirteen. She never attended any formal school, has a child, and was divorced when she was seventeen. How can we expect her to survive without an education or concrete way to generate income?

Perhaps these two anecdotes from my life in Kano begin to paint a clearer picture of the kind of roles most parents think they should be playing in giving their daughters out for marriage at a young age. The most unfortunate aspect of it is that many of them tend to see their daughters as a burden which they can no longer bear, and will marry them off without understanding the risks associated with it. Some of them also believe that it will protect their daughters against unwanted pregnancy outside marriage, HIV/AIDS, and other Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Unfortunately, they could not be more wrong in this aspect. Some of the most common and devastating dangers associated with early marriage include the possibility of contracting HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Infections, because many girls who are married at a young age have little or no knowledge of HIV at all, and they are being married to men who are older and more experienced than them. Additionally, adolescent girls’ bodies have not fully developed, and therefore stand a chance of experiencing complication during pregnancy which can lead to maternal and child death. Other dangers include that of exclusion in virtually every sphere of activity, because many girls who are married young have limited educational opportunities and don’t have a chance to develop the skills necessary to earn a living on their own, contributing to an ongoing cycle of poverty.

Nura Iro Maaji is a Program Officer at the Society for Youth Awareness and Health Development (SYAHD), and an Administrative Assistant with Advocacy Nigeria. He will be attending this year’s African Federation on Sexual Health and Rights Conference in Ethiopia.

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