This post is part two of a two part series. Read the first post, with some stories about early marriage, here.
Though marriage is different from one society to the next due to cultural, traditional, and religious differences, various international human rights documents reinforce the importance of a consistent standard of norms to be applied in marriage, particularly on issues of age, consent, and equality within marriage. Such documents include, for example, article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948, which states that:
1) Men and women of full age… have the right to marry and found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and its dissolution.
2) Marriage shall be entered in to only with the free and full consent of the intending parties.
Other instruments such as Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and African Charter on the Rights of the Child, reiterate this position. In fact, the African Charter prohibits child marriage and instead suggests that legislation should be enacted to make 18 the minimum age for marriage.
So what is being done to make sure these doctrines are enforced, and child marriage is prevented? Advocacy Nigeria – a network of volunteer advocates of which I am a part—has been working in six states in northern Nigeria, including Kano, to help ensure that these international standards are achieved in the local level. Also noteworthy is IWHC partner Adolescent Health and Information Projects (AHIP), an excellent organization which has been working to sensitize young adolescent girls and boys to understand their sexuality, and to also empower them with income-generating activities in order to live a healthy life. In fact, I am a beneficiary of this training because I was trained as a peer health educator in AHIP, and many youth like me are still being trained.
Further, I call on policy makers and other relevant stake holders to pursue the following action steps:
• Incorporate comprehensive sexuality education into our school curriculum, and encourage adolescent school attendance by lifting the requirement of school fees.
• Strengthen partnerships among policy makers, NGOs, and the media in order to create more awareness holistically and to reorient the entire society on the dangers of early marriage and the importance of girls’ education.
• Dedicate international days for women for a massive campaign to end early and forced marriage.
• Concentrate on economic empowerment trainings for divorced women and vocational trainings for girls, so that they can earn a living.
• And lastly, view NGOs as partners in development, and not enemies of progress.
If our dream is to ensure a free and democratic society with a great and dynamic economy, a just and healthy life for women must be made a priority. Early and forced marriage is a threat to adolescent girls’ health and rights, and must be addressed aggressively.
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.