The Legal, Medical and Social Implications of Child Marriage in Nigeria

The Legal, Medical and Social Implications of Child Marriage in Nigeria Abstract Nigeria is among the top 20 countries in Africa with the highest number of child-brides, mainly because child marriage is deeply entrenched in the country’s custom and religion. However, the practice is particularly prevalent in certain ethnic and religious communities in the Northern part of the country, with its attendant disastrous consequences including health hazards and social evils. There is, therefore, a need to abolish child marriage in the country. In order to do this, the following should be established: First, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 ought to be amended to ensure that 18 years minimum age for marriage provided in the Child’s Rights Act becomes applicable throughout the country for civil, customary, and religious marriages. Secondly, the registration machinery should be overhauled for effective registration of births and marriages both in urban and rural areas, which will help the appropriate authority enforce the minimum age of marriage. Thirdly, illiterate rural dwellers should be educated about the health hazards of child marriage and the importance and economic benefits of educating the girl child. INTRODUCTION Nigeria is among the top 20 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage in Africa.1 It has about 23 million girls and women married in childhood,2 because child marriage is deeply entrenched in the country’s custom and religion. However, it is particularly prevalent in certain ethnic and religious communities in the Northern part of the country.3 Child marriage, which applies to both boys and girls, is defined as a marriage where either of the parties is below 18 years. It is associated with violation of numerous child rights, particularly that of the girl child due to exposure to domestic violence, health hazards, and many social evils. Flowing from the foregoing is the question ‘who is a child’? Apart from the Marriage Act4 and section 29(4)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (the Constitution) which provides that any married woman is presumed to be 18 years,5 all other civil laws6 define a child as a person below 18 years. Customary and Islamic laws define a child as a person who has not attained the age of puberty, which is determined by the appearance of certain physical features like pubic hair, breast, and menstruation.7 In Nigeria, the conflicting positions over the age of childhood as seen above make it difficult to control child marriage. This article is divided into three parts. Part I explores the legal implications of child marriage, exposing why child marriage still persists in the country despite a legal framework that prohibits it. Part II discusses the health implications of child marriage. Part III shows that one of the disastrous consequences of this practice is that the girl child is denied the right to education, despite this being adequately provided for in the laws applicable in the country. Finally, the concluding section recommends how child marriage could be eliminated. I. LEGAL IMPLICATIONS OF CHILD MARRIAGE In Nigeria, the celebration of marriage is governed by international and regional instruments8 applicable in the country and also domestic laws.9 International Legal Framework: Nigeria has signed and ratified many international and regional instruments10 that protect the rights of the Nigerian child. These instruments have provisions that directly or indirectly prohibit and discourage child marriage. However, there are some loopholes in these instruments that make it difficult to eradicate child marriage in Nigeria and, therefore, remain at best, rhetoric, or a general declaration of principles, without effective national policies and mechanisms to implement and enforce them.11 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR): Nigeria, as a member of the United Nations (UN), is a signatory to the UDHR. The UDHR did not specifically prohibit child marriage, but this could be inferred from Article 16(b) which states that ‘marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending parties’. The recognition that the intending parties to the marriage must give their free and full consent means that the UDHR discourages child marriage. In most child marriages, consent is not free and full, since the child-bride is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner.12 Considering the domineering influence of parents and guardians within the context of strong religious or traditional norms, children are colluded or forced into marriage.13 Some child-brides even give their consent as a duty or sign of respect.14 In all such marriages consent is not free and full and violates the UDHR.15 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW): CEDAW was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and was instituted in 1981 and has been ratified by 189 countries.16 Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice.17 Nigeria signed the Convention on 23 April 1984 and ratified it on 13 May 1985.18 CEDAW in Article 16(2) specifically prohibits child marriage by providing that: The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory. By the words of the above mentioned article, child marriage is illegal in any country that ratified CEDAW. In the General Recommendation 21 in 1994 (para 36) the CEDAW Committee considers that the minimum age for marriage should be 18 years for both men and women. This is to ensure that they are fully matured and have the capacity to assume the important responsibilities of marriage.19 The implication of this is that State parties while exercising the power given to them in Article 16(2) should not specify a minimum age for marriage lower than 18 years otherwise that will mean breaching their obligations under CEDAW. This notwithstanding, it has been noted that the power given to State parties to specify by legislation the minimum age for marriage has allowed them to easily avoid obligations under Article 16(2) (Askari, 1998). For example, in Nigeria some States20 by legislation prescribed the age of puberty21 as the minimum age for marriage while some22 prescribed 16 years. In order to understand the position of CEDAW, Article 16(2) should not be read in isolation but should be read together with General Recommendation 21 in 1994 (para 36). When this happens, it will be seen that CEDAW directly prohibits child marriage. In breach of the above provision many marriages are not registered, especially those conducted in the rural areas, and therefore, it is very difficult to discover child marriages. As in the UDHR, Article 16(1)(b) of CEDAW recognizes that each party to a marriage must give her/his free and full consent. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC): The CRC was adopted and opened for signature, ratification, and accession by the UN on 20 November 1989.23 Nigeria ratified the Convention on 16 April 1991.24 The Convention enjoins that Member States shall undertake to disseminate the Convention’s principles and take all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the Convention.25 Against this background, the Child’s Rights Bill based on the principles enshrined in the CRC and African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) was drafted in 1993. The draft bill was passed 10 years later by the National Assembly in July 2003 and became the Child’s Rights Act (CRA) 2003.26 The CRA 2003 is, therefore, the domestication of the CRC and ACRWC (referred to below). The CRC is an instrument fundamentally geared towards the protection of the rights of a child. Contrary to the opinion of some writers, it is not a comprehensive instrument (Cohen, 1997; Cohen and Miljeteig-Olssen, 1990–1991).27 It is deficient in the protection of some child rights, particularly that of the girl child. Since this article is focused on child marriage, we intend to limit our discussion to those deficiencies relating to child marriage. The CRC specifically omitted prohibiting child marriage or stating the minimum age for marriage. Child marriage is known to violate a host of the fundamental rights of the child especially the girl child.28 This omission and the provisions of Articles 1 and 14(2) of the CRC seem to support child marriage (Braimah, 2014) contrary to Cohen’s position that the convention should be recognized as an important feminist landmark (Cohen, 1997). Article 1 provides that: ‘For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child majority is attained earlier.’ Although Article 1 prescribes that a child is someone below the age 18 years, it contradicts itself by the phrase ‘unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier’, because in some States parties a child, particularly a girl, is considered to have attained the age of majority once she shows signs of puberty, which in some children come as early as 9 years. In Northern Nigeria, Islamic law prescribes that a child is presumed to be physically and physiologically capable of consummating marriage on the attainment of puberty. Thus, the phrase encourages child marriage and, therefore, contradicts the definition of a child provided by CRC. Secondly, Article 14(2) provides that: ‘States parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child’. By this provision, the CRC recognized the rights and duties of parents or guardians to provide directions to their child, which could mean that parents or guardians can legally train their child to obey and observe the tenets of their religion and custom which include, especially for Muslims, child marriage. However, these deficiencies notwithstanding, there are some provisions of the CRC which indirectly prohibit child marriage. For example, Article 3 stipulates that in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. It, therefore, follows that encouraging child marriage is not in the best interests of the child because of the adverse consequences associated with child marriage. Child marriage it has been noted ‘produces a rejection of infancy and adolescence, social impoverishment, a restraint of individual freedom of children and a denial of their psychosocial and emotional security, reproductive health and other development opportunities’ (Van Coller, 2017). A practice that encourages the above stated is not in the best interests of the child and ought to be eliminated. It has also been tersely observed that the CRC ‘should not be interpreted to allow States parties to establish marriage ages incompatible with the provisions, aims and objectives of the CRC, including the principle of the best interests of the child in Article 3’ (Detrick, 1999). Thus, it was rightly observed that ‘a proposed outcome for a child cannot be said to be in his or her best interest where it conflicts with the provisions of the Convention’ (Tobin, 2006). This is exactly what happens when States parties legalize a marriage age that is below 18 years. Article 6 provides that every child has the inherent right to life. It is well known that the health hazards associated with child marriage are life-threatening. Maternal mortality is higher in child pregnancy and this threatens the right to life of the child-bride. Article 7 provides for the registration of a child immediately after birth. This will enable the appropriate authority to know the age of the bride at marriage and take the necessary action. Article 19 protects a child, among others, from sexual abuse. Child marriage is a form of sexual abuse against the girl child. The practice of child marriage invariably contravenes Article 19. Article 24(3) provides that: ‘States parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children’. In most countries where child marriage is practised, it is regarded as their tradition. For instance, in Nigeria child marriage is rampant in the Northern part of the country among the Hausa–Fulani where child marriage is part of their tradition (Braimah, 2014). Article 24(3) could, therefore, be invoked to abolish child marriage. Finally, the CRC provides that the child has a right to education,29 which is breached by child marriage, because the child-bride drops out of school once she gets married. ACRWC: The instrument originated because State members of the African Union (AU) felt that the CRC omitted some important socio-cultural and economic realities peculiar to Africa (Okpalaobi and Ekwueme, 2015). The ACRWC was adopted by the AU in 1990 and came into force in 1999.30 Nigeria signed the ACRWC on 13 July 1999, ratified it on 23 July 200131 and domesticated it in September 2003, in compliance with the obligation of State parties provided in Article 1(1) of ACRWC.32 The ACRWC is a more comprehensive instrument in the protection of the rights of the child when compared with the CRC. The ACRWC defines a child as every human being below the age of 18 years.33 Unlike the CRC, the ACRWC specifically prohibits child marriage and betrothal of girls and boys and stipulates that effective action including legislation should be taken by State members to specify the minimum age for marriage as 18 years.34 Domestic Legal Framework: Nigeria has a tripartite legal framework of civil, customary, and religious laws that govern the celebration of marriage. The difficulty in harmonizing these laws in relation to marriage is why it is almost impossible to eliminate child marriage in the country. Customary and Islamic Laws: The various customary laws35 applicable in Nigeria recognize child marriage and child betrothal, because initially these laws did not prescribe any age for marriage. This lacuna was what really encouraged child marriage and child betrothal with their attendant evils in many communities in Nigeria (Nwogugu, 2001). However, subsequently some parts of the country enacted legislation to fix the minimum age for customary law marriages. The Eastern Region prescribes 16 years.36 In the Northern Region, the various Native Authorities prescribe the marriageable age for their different localities which range from 12 to 14 years.37 In the Western Region no law prescribes a minimum age. The applicable law in this respect prescribes that in a petition for divorce, the court should take into consideration whether the parties were betrothed under marriageable age38 without defining the term ‘marriageable age’. Islamic Law: Under Islamic laws the age of marriage depends on puberty and maturity, and varies according to tradition between different ages under 18 years. Consent of the parties and the parents is an essential requirement for the celebration of a valid marriage under the customary law and Islamic law. In both laws, the consent of the parties especially that of the girl is treated as a mere formality, but that of the parents is an essential prerequisite to a valid marriage.39 The reason for this is that marriage is regarded as a contract between the two families. So a girl is practically forced to accept the suitor selected by her parents, and sometimes there are disastrous consequences as will be seen in the two cases;40 discussed below where the child-brides were accused of killing their husbands. Civil Laws: Statutory marriage in Nigeria is governed by the Marriage Act,41 the Matrimonial Causes Act42 and the CRA 2003.43 The Marriage Act recognizes that a person who has not attained the age of 21 years is a minor and, therefore, can only contract a valid marriage if the parent or guardian gives written consent.44 Therefore, parental consent can validate the marriage of a child aged 13 or 14 years. Failure to obtain the requisite consent before the marriage will not invalidate a marriage already celebrated;45 neither will the parties to the marriage be prosecuted under section 48 of the Act. The above mentioned flaws coupled with the fact that the Act does not specify a minimum age for marriage means that the Act encourages child marriage. The defect of not specifying a minimum age was not cured by the Matrimonial Causes Act enacted in 1970. That Act merely stipulates that a marriage is void where either of the parties is not of marriageable age,46 but failed to define the term ‘marriageable age’ or provide a minimum age for marriage (Onokah, 2003). However, the CRA 2003 has resolved this problem. The Act specifically provides that the minimum age for marriage is 18 years47 and defines a child as a person under the age of 18 years.48 Furthermore, the Act not only prohibits child marriage and child betrothal,49 but also provides that a person who marries a child or promotes child marriage or child betrothal will be prosecuted and punished.50 The Act also provides in Article 5(2) for mandatory registration of births, but this has not helped because registration of birth in the country is so irregular that most times it is impossible to know the age of the bride at marriage. Unfortunately, child marriages still persist in Nigeria and are mostly rampant in the Northern part of the country that is predominantly Muslim. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) statistics, nationally 28 per cent of girls marry under 18 years, but in the Northwest and Northeast regions the figure is 68 per cent and 76 per cent, respectively, and in the Southeast and Southwest regions it is 6 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively.51 This is because the CRA is a federal enactment and not automatically applicable in the 36 States of the Federation.52 Child rights protection issues are residual matters in the Constitution53 within the exclusive legislative competence of the States. Some States in the Northern part of the country are reluctant to adopt the CRA, contending that the law conflicts with their cultural and Islamic traditions, particularly in relation to the minimum age of marriage.54 Some States55 that adopted the CRA define a child as a person under 16 years in their Child’s Rights Law (CRL).56 The Jigawa State CRL, although prohibiting child marriage,57 defines a child as a person below the age of puberty,58 and defines puberty as the age when a person is physically and physiologically capable of consummating a marriage.59 In these States and those States that have yet to adopt the CRA, a child under the age of 18 years can be legally married. Although contrary to the CRA this cannot be prosecuted60 since the CRA is not automatically applicable in the States. This is why child marriage still persists in Nigeria notwithstanding the domestication of the CRC and ACRWC since 2003. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999: The Constitution has no provision prohibiting child marriage, but has indirectly encouraged child marriage, as a result of the provisions of section 29 and the Second Schedule, Part 1, Item 61. Section 29(1) provides that ‘a citizen of Nigeria who is of full age and wishes to renounce his citizenship can make a declaration in the prescribed manner’. Section 29(4) states that for purposes of subsection (1): (i) Full age means the age of 18 years and above; and (ii) Any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age. Therefore, a girl who is married before the age of 18 years automatically attains full age by virtue of the provision of section 29(4)(b). This happened in Maimuna Abdulmumini v FRN, Kastina State and the Nigerian Prison Service61 where Maimuna, aged 13 years, was arrested in relation to an arson which resulted in the death of her husband of 5 months. It took 2 years before criminal charges were officially filed against her. She was assigned a legal counsel who did not make any mitigation plea on her behalf. The State contended that, although she was 13 years when the offence was committed, according to the law she was an adult because she was married at the time. The court upheld the contention and sentenced Maimuna to death by hanging. While on death row, she was met by lawyers from Avocats Sans Frontieres (ASF France), an international organization that fights injustice across the world through its Saving Lives Project. The ASF France filed for a stay of execution on Maimuna’s behalf in the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja. It was argued that her right under Article 5(3) of the ACRWC, which expressly prohibits death sentence for crimes committed by children, had been violated. The State argued that, since Maimuna was married, in law she is considered to be of full age, therefore, the death sentence is constitutionally permitted.62 The court upheld the contention of the ASF France and suspended the sentence.63 In another case, Wasila Tasi’u, another child-bride aged 14 years, was charged with culpable homicide for killing her husband of 5 days when she laced his food with rat poison. However, the case was dropped when the Attorney-General of Katsina State entered a nolle prosequi due to pressure from human rights activists.64 During the review of the Constitution, the Senate Committee recommended the removal of section 29(4) (b) from the Constitution. This was adopted by the Senate, but Senator Yerima opposed the adoption contending that the removal of the paragraph from the Constitution was against the tenets of Islam.65 He requested a second vote and, when granted, he lobbied and was able to convince many Muslim Senators to vote against the recommendation, resulting in the Senate being unable to muster the required two-thirds majority votes to remove the controversial provision from the Constitution.66 Many Nigerians noted that the Senate, by this action, has legalized child marriage. Some Muslims opposed Senator Yerima’s position on age of marriage in Islam and observed that in Islam, where a practice is merely permissible and not mandatory, it is practicable and entirely feasible to discourage or prohibit it, where it is harmful to individuals and the community.67 This is why some Muslim countries like Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Somalia, and Bangladesh have set the minimum age for marriage as 18 years in acknowledgment of the serious, physical, and mental health hazards associated with child marriage.68 The Second Schedule Part 1 of the Constitution sets out matters that are reserved exclusively for the National Assembly. By Item 61 this includes: ‘The formation, annulment and dissolution of marriages other than marriages under Islamic law and customary law including matrimonial causes relating thereto’. This, therefore, means that the National Assembly cannot legislate with respect to Islamic law and customary law marriages, and is why the minimum age for marriage prescribed in the CRA cannot apply to such marriages.69Braimah (2014) observed that item 61 rendered the CRA useless. Child marriage and violation of the human rights of the girl child: Child marriage remains a widely ignored violation of the human rights of the girl child in Nigeria and this has tarnished the human rights image of the country (Ukwuoma, 2014). A host of human rights70 are enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution as well as a number of international and regional instruments, some of which have been domesticated as part of Nigerian laws. This implies that the girl child just like every other person in the country is entitled to enjoy these rights. No one can under the guise of any custom or religion legally prevent her from enjoying these rights. In Uke v Iro71 the court observed that: ‘A custom which strives to deprive a woman of constitutionally guaranteed rights is otiose and offends the provisions that guarantee equal protection under the law’.72 Those human rights of the girl child violated by child marriage will be discussed below. The Right to life is a universally recognized right73 for all human beings. For children it means protecting them from birth74 and giving them the chance to survive75 and have normal growth,76 to develop77 and attain their full potential. This cannot be achieved when a child is married off at a very tender age, below 18 years. Child marriage, therefore, threatens the health and life of the girl child as explained in detail in the next part of this article. In Nigeria the right against inhuman and degrading treatment is proclaimed in the Constitution,78 national laws,79 and international,80 and regional81 instruments applicable in the country. The right is intended to protect the Nigerian child from all forms of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment which have been defined in Uzoukwu v Ezeonu II82 as follows: ‘Torture includes mental harassment as well as physical brutalization. Inhuman treatment characterizes any act without feeling for the suffering of the other. Degrading treatment is the element of lowering the societal status, character, value or position of a person’.83 Child marriage which is deeply entrenched in our tradition, culture, and religion (Adedokun et al, 2016) inflicts the girl child with mental and physical torture. It is a practice degrading to the dignity, value, and status of the girl child (Ukwuoma, 2014). Child marriage uproots a girl child from the safe environment of her home and the protective influence of her parents, where she is nurtured as she exhibits her childishness, curiosity, immature, and uncoordinated behaviour as a growing child (Ukwuoma, 2014). She is transplanted to an environment where she is given a new role as a wife and responsibilities which include sexually satisfying her husband and performing some domestic duties attached to her new role. These of course, are beyond her capabilities as a child and affect her mental and physical well-being. A girl child not being prepared to face the transformation brought about by marriage is subjected to all forms of abuse such as psychological trauma, domestic violence84 and forced sexual acts by the husband (Adedokun et al, 2016). All these are torturing, inhuman, and degrading to the girl child. This is why the UNICEF correctly observed that child marriage condemns millions of young girls to a life of misery and pain.85 To ensure prohibition of child marriage the ACRWC provides in Article 16 that State parties shall take legislative and administrative measures to protect the child from all forms of torture, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Furthermore, the ACRWC provides that State parties shall take appropriate measures to eliminate customs and practices that affect the dignity,86 health or life87 of a child. Since, child marriage is entrenched in our tradition and culture, it has to be eliminated because it affects the dignity of the girl child. The Citizen Forum recommended the following amendment to section 34 of the Constitution: ‘No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman and degrading treatment whatsoever; the subjection of any man, woman or child to torture or degrading treatment on the basis of culture, custom, tradition or religion shall be prohibited’ (Pereira, 2004).This recommendation, if adopted, will strengthen the provision and go a long way to eliminate child marriage which is a major source of torture, inhuman, and degrading treatment on the girl child. The Constitution,88 CRA,89 CRC,90 and ACRWC91 guarantee the right to freedom from discrimination. These laws protect the Nigerian child from any form of discrimination merely by reason of his belonging to a particular community or ethnic group or by reason of his place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion. Sex being one of the grounds the Nigerian child should not be discriminated against, means both boys and girls should be equally treated. Unfortunately, traditionally boys are preferred to girls. Most families, especially in the rural areas, give preference to boy’s education and the girl child is married off at a very tender age and denied the same opportunities as the boy. Child marriage is, therefore, rooted in gender discrimination92 against the girl child and should be abolished. In Asika v Atuanya93 the Court observed that; ‘…if a custom tends to discriminate against a particular section of the populace, that even if not subject to litigation should not be allowed to prevail since it is against the tenets of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999’.94 However, it is important to note that the combination of federalism and a tripartite legal system applicable in Nigeria, makes it very difficult to harmonize legislation and remove the discriminatory measures95 associated with child marriage. II. MEDICAL IMPLICATIONS OF CHILD MARRIAGE One of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality for women of childbearing age all over the world is sexual and reproductive health problems.96 This is more so in developing countries with chronic issues of poor access to reproductive health services. It is further heightened by child marriage which exposes the child-bride to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), pregnancy before the first menstruation and before maternal pelvic growth is complete. The consequence of all these are health issues that begin to emerge including: obstetric fistula (vesicovaginal fistula, VVF and rectovaginal fistula, RVF), maternal mortality and morbidity as well as infant mortality and morbidity. Obstetric fistula is an abnormal opening or hole between the bladder and the vagina (VVF) or between the rectum and vagina (RVF).97 It occurs mainly in pregnant child-brides with immature pelvis and birth canal for vaginal delivery and who will consequently need an emergency caesarean section in order to deliver their babies. In Nigeria, where emergency obstetric care98 and trained medical personnel for caesarean sections is limited, especially in rural areas, such young girls often undergo prolonged and obstructed labour due to narrow/small pelvis or oversized foetus, thus making vaginal delivery impossible and often resulting in obstetric fistula (hole). It is generally produced when uterine contraction forces the foetal head to be stuck deep into the maternal pelvis, where it causes compression of the soft tissues against the bony pelvis. As the labour progresses, this eventually cuts off blood supply to the compressed tissues causing foetal and/or maternal death or morbidity, and also the tissues die and rot or tear away creating abnormal openings called fistula. This results in total loss of bladder and/or bowel control causing continuous and uncontrollable flow of urine and feaces through the vagina (Nnamuchi et al, 2016). The smell is horrendous with the result that women with obstetric fistula are usually abandoned by their husbands, families, friends, and neighbours. In fact, they are usually ostracized by the society, leading to low self-esteem, depression, mental imbalance, and even suicide. Additionally, the patients suffer from painful sores, bladder infection, kidney failures, and infertility.99 Also, the immature pelvis under prolonged pressure by the foetal head could be dislocated leading to severe orthopedic injury and permanent disability.100 Medical records obtained from Murtala Mohammed Specialist Hospital, Kano, in the North Central part of Nigeria, indicate an average of 159 VVF and 29 cases of RVF treated yearly from 2008 to 2016. This clearly shows a preponderance of cases of VVF, but it is believed that these numbers are underreported as many more languish in remote villages without any means of getting to the hospital or even without any knowledge that their condition could be cured or treated. This record shows that obstetric fistula can be treated through surgery but presently in Nigeria, like in most developing countries, a limited number of healthcare facilities are able to provide this care to the thousands in need of it.101 The government is, therefore, called upon to improve health systems and social infrastructures both in the urban and rural areas in order to provide prompt caesarean section for women going through prolonged and obstructed labour. Also, poverty alleviation, improved literacy of the girl-child and ending of harmful traditional practices have been recommended as ways of reducing the incidence of obstetrics fistula (Alabi, 2014). In 2006, the Executive Council of the AU authorized the Continental Policy Framework on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Africa.102 This regional initiative together with other regional efforts103 addressed reproductive health challenges in Africa and dealt substantially with obstetric fistula by promoting a more conducive and enabling environment to end it. The UN General Assembly acknowledged obstetric fistula as a major women’s health issue for the first time in 2007. On 18 December 2007, therefore, it adopted a resolution supporting efforts to eliminate it.104 In 2010 and 2012, there were subsequent resolutions105 in renewed efforts to end obstetric fistula. Nigeria, as a member of the UN is bound by these resolutions. In Nigeria, well-known centres like the Murtala Mohammed Specialist Hospital Kano and the Pope John Paul II Family Life Centre and Maternal Birth Injury Hospital, Mbribit Itam, in Akwa Ibom State and few other dedicated centres for the treatment of obstetric fistula have brought about marked improvement on the number of women who have benefited from the treatment of the condition. The number has increased from 2,000 in 2008 to 6,000 in 2013.106 But more has to be done. In fact, in Nigeria, an estimated 400,000–800,000 women and girls are living with fistula while an additional 12,000–20,000 new cases develop yearly.107 It has been observed by the World Health Organization (WHO) that obstetric fistula is preventable and can be avoided by delaying the age of first pregnancy, ending child marriage and timely access to obstetric care.108 STDs, which include Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and cervical cancer, are the most common health problem suffered by child-brides because the marriages are usually polygamous with multiple wives and in some cases mistresses maintained outside the marriage. With this background, coupled with ignorance and ingrained cultural rejection of condoms, it is common for husbands to engage in unprotected sex with the other wives and partners as well as the child-bride. This may expose the child-bride to sexually transmitted disease from the husband even before her first menstruation. A child-bride who contacts STD through the husband may nevertheless remain untreated either as a result of lack of access to healthcare, poverty or refusal of the husband to grant her the permission to go to hospital. A focus group discussion held with eight girls under 18 years who are currently in child marriages in Gamawa Local Government Area of Bauchi State, north-eastern Nigeria109 reveals that up to 79.2 per cent of a sample population of predominantly females in Bauchi State of Nigeria admitted to having contracted STDs multiple times (Allen and Adekola, 2017). Further revelations from the respondents indicate that incidents of STDs are followed by prolonged or obstructed labour and VVF among child-brides. Studies carried out in Kenya, Zambia, and Uganda show that married girls are more likely to become infected with HIV than unmarried girls (Nour, 2006). It was observed that the age difference between the husbands and their wives was a significant HIV risk factor for the wives (Kelly et al, 2003). The physiologically immature girls are generally highly prone to lacerations of the hymen, vaginal wall and the cervix, as a result of sexual intercourse with fully matured male husbands. These cuts and bruises, incidental to the sexual intercourse, render the child-bride very vulnerable to HIV infection (Nour, 2009). It was noted that other STDs such as herpes simplex virus type 2 infection, gonorrhea, and chlamydia are also often transmitted from husbands to their young wives, thus, further increasing the girls’ vulnerability to HIV. Research has also demonstrated that as the child-bride is vulnerable to HIV infection from the husband, she is equally susceptible to increased risks of human papillomavirus transmission and cervical cancer as a result of sexual intercourse with the husband (Nour, 2009). Child marriage is a key driver of early pregnancy before a girl is physiologically mature for childbearing. This increases the risk of maternal death among girls aged 15–19 years in many low- and middle-income countries including Nigeria.110 Each year, out of about 7.3 million births occurring among girls under the age of 18 years in developing countries, 2 million of these births occur among girls younger than 15 years.111 Due to the fact that the girl’s pelvis and birth canal are still underdeveloped, vaginal births often involve long and obstructive labour invariably leading to either the death of the child or mother or both. Where the child dies and the mother survives the ordeal, she may end up with debilitating life-long problem of obstetrics morbidity like obstetric fistula, dislocated pelvic bones, bladder infection, and even infertility.112 So, non-fatal obstetric trauma is really a major health problem of women in developing countries (including Nigeria), in general and immature mothers in particular. Besides, pregnant girls are at increased risk of acquiring diseases like malaria and they also have higher rates of malaria-related complications (predominantly pulmonary oedema, extreme cases of anaemia, and hypo glycaemia) and death than do non-pregnant women (Nour, 2006). Malaria parasite density is significantly higher in pregnant girls below 18 years than in pregnant women above 18 years.113 Also, malaria increases HIV viral load and the biological interaction between these diseases not only complicates treatment in an already challenging setting but also presents a serious risk of death to pregnant girls below 18 years.114 Therefore, there must be a concerted effort on the part of the government to make available free health care, especially in the antenatal clinics, for young women, and to increase the scope and quality of maternal health services. This will ultimately reduce the risk associated with maternal mortality and morbidity especially as they relate to prolonged and obstructed labour (Akpan, 2003). Child marriage increases the risk of infant and under-five mortality and morbidity. (Simbine and Aluko, 2016). Children born to child-brides also have a higher risk of malnutrition than children born to older mothers.115 Delaying marriage, therefore, would help reduce infant and child mortality. Adolescent mothers have a 35–55 per cent higher risk than older women for delivering infants who are preterm and of low birth weight. (Nour, 2006) Also, mortality rates are 73 per cent higher for infants born to mothers less than 20 years of age than for those born to older mothers (Nour, 2006). III. SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS OF CHILD MARRIAGE Education: The education of the girl child is recognized as one of the key indices of social development in any society. In recognition of the key role played by education, the international community has made certain commitments towards ensuring that education is kept at the forefront of development. The World Conference of Education For All (EFA) for instance, in 1990, recognized that the improvement of access to quality education for girls and women is of ‘most urgent priority’ (Kyari and Ayodele, 2014). In 2000, at the Dakar World Education Forum, over a hundred countries affirmed the importance of education for children with special emphasis on girls. They resolved that children, especially girls, require access to primary education of good quality by 2015 (Kyari and Ayodele, 2014). It was at this forum that the then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, launched the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) with a vision of ‘accelerating action on girls’ education to realize a world where all girls and boys are empowered through quality education to realize their full potential and contribute to transforming societies where gender equality becomes a reality.116 Many more forums both at domestic and international levels have recognized the importance of education for girls and made many commitments to realize this important social development goal (World Bank, 2015).117 To uphold the above aspiration in Nigeria, the Constitution,118 national laws,119 international, and regional instruments,120 provide the right to free primary education for the girl child. The Nigerian government has also initiated various policies that encourage education for all children with emphasis on the girl child, as seen in Table 1. The government has not been able to enforce effectively the laws and policies because of the incidence of child marriages. As a result, the girls drop out of school and start giving birth to children and this continues throughout their lifetime and they are denied the opportunity to go back to school. Their potential to contribute to the development of society is essentially cut short as they are often isolated. Table 1. Key policy initiatives with a gender focus in Nigeria Policy Initiative Year Intention Blueprint on Women’s education 1986 Expanded educational opportunities for women; discouraged withdrawal of girl children from school. Nomadic education programme 1986 Provided primary education to children of nomadic pastoral communities. National commission for mass literacy and non-formal education 1991 Reduced illiteracy by encouraging children to attend school; established functional literacy centres for women. Family support basic education programme 1994 Encouraged families in rural areas to accept education for girl children as a way to enhance child health and youth development. Universal basic education 1999 Boosted enrolment by ensuring that all children of schoolgoing age had access to primary and junior secondary education. National policy on women 2001 Enhanced access by locating facilities close to communities; enhanced teacher recruitment; provided incentives for girls to study mathematics and science. Education For All – fast track initiative 2002 Increased support for basic education. Strategy for acceleration of girls’ education in Nigeria 2003 Led to the launch in 2004 of the Girls’ Education Project; focused on an integrated approach to achieving gender parity. NEEDS 2004 A poverty reduction strategy that enhanced the integration of women in national development by increasing their capacity to participate in the economy and in employment. Universal Basic Education Act 2004 Provided pre-primary education; confirmed universal right to primary and early secondary education. Policy Initiative Year Intention Blueprint on Women’s education 1986 Expanded educational opportunities for women; discouraged withdrawal of girl children from school. Nomadic education programme 1986 Provided primary education to children of nomadic pastoral communities. National commission for mass literacy and non-formal education 1991 Reduced illiteracy by encouraging children to attend school; established functional literacy centres for women. Family support basic education programme 1994 Encouraged families in rural areas to accept education for girl children as a way to enhance child health and youth development. Universal basic education 1999 Boosted enrolment by ensuring that all children of schoolgoing age had access to primary and junior secondary education. National policy on women 2001 Enhanced access by locating facilities close to communities; enhanced teacher recruitment; provided incentives for girls to study mathematics and science. Education For All – fast track initiative 2002 Increased support for basic education. Strategy for acceleration of girls’ education in Nigeria 2003 Led to the launch in 2004 of the Girls’ Education Project; focused on an integrated approach to achieving gender parity. NEEDS 2004 A poverty reduction strategy that enhanced the integration of women in national development by increasing their capacity to participate in the economy and in employment. Universal Basic Education Act 2004 Provided pre-primary education; confirmed universal right to primary and early secondary education. Source: British Council Nigeria – Gender in Nigeria Report 2012. Table 1. Key policy initiatives with a gender focus in Nigeria Policy Initiative Year Intention Blueprint on Women’s education 1986 Expanded educational opportunities for women; discouraged withdrawal of girl children from school. Nomadic education programme 1986 Provided primary education to children of nomadic pastoral communities. National commission for mass literacy and non-formal education 1991 Reduced illiteracy by encouraging children to attend school; established functional literacy centres for women. Family support basic education programme 1994 Encouraged families in rural areas to accept education for girl children as a way to enhance child health and youth development. Universal basic education 1999 Boosted enrolment by ensuring that all children of schoolgoing age had access to primary and junior secondary education. National policy on women 2001 Enhanced access by locating facilities close to communities; enhanced teacher recruitment; provided incentives for girls to study mathematics and science. Education For All – fast track initiative 2002 Increased support for basic education. Strategy for acceleration of girls’ education in Nigeria 2003 Led to the launch in 2004 of the Girls’ Education Project; focused on an integrated approach to achieving gender parity. NEEDS 2004 A poverty reduction strategy that enhanced the integration of women in national development by increasing their capacity to participate in the economy and in employment. Universal Basic Education Act 2004 Provided pre-primary education; confirmed universal right to primary and early secondary education. Policy Initiative Year Intention Blueprint on Women’s education 1986 Expanded educational opportunities for women; discouraged withdrawal of girl children from school. Nomadic education programme 1986 Provided primary education to children of nomadic pastoral communities. National commission for mass literacy and non-formal education 1991 Reduced illiteracy by encouraging children to attend school; established functional literacy centres for women. Family support basic education programme 1994 Encouraged families in rural areas to accept education for girl children as a way to enhance child health and youth development. Universal basic education 1999 Boosted enrolment by ensuring that all children of schoolgoing age had access to primary and junior secondary education. National policy on women 2001 Enhanced access by locating facilities close to communities; enhanced teacher recruitment; provided incentives for girls to study mathematics and science. Education For All – fast track initiative 2002 Increased support for basic education. Strategy for acceleration of girls’ education in Nigeria 2003 Led to the launch in 2004 of the Girls’ Education Project; focused on an integrated approach to achieving gender parity. NEEDS 2004 A poverty reduction strategy that enhanced the integration of women in national development by increasing their capacity to participate in the economy and in employment. Universal Basic Education Act 2004 Provided pre-primary education; confirmed universal right to primary and early secondary education. Source: British Council Nigeria – Gender in Nigeria Report 2012. It can also be observed from Table 1 that the National Empowerment Development Economic and Strategy (NEEDS) recognized the need for education of women as a stepping stone for poverty reduction. This is realized when women are able to participate in employment and economy growth through adequate education. It is, therefore, safe to posit that the education of children, especially the girl child, is important as it opens up various possibilities for the girl child. When girls go to school, marriage and childbearing are delayed until they can make an informed decision on these matters. The Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2013 (NDHS) report shows that there is a correlation between the predominance of child marriages and lack of education. The highest proportions of women with no education are found in the north west and north east. The lowest proportions are in the south east and south west. The findings show that often female students enroll in primary school but do not make it to secondary school. One of the reasons for this lack of transition is the interruption of the girl child’s education by early marriage (CDD, 2013). Other factors connected to education stagnation on the part of the girl child include poverty, ignorance/illiteracy, and social stratification, religious, and cultural practices that have been historically accepted as the norm in some communities. Social regression including stigmatization and psychological underdevelopment: Another implication of child marriage is the psychological impact it has on the child-bride. First and foremost, the childhood of the girl is disrupted, which is recognized as the process for maturity into adulthood. The girl usually does not understand what she is getting into and as a result experiences mixed emotions. Her peers who do not fall into the same cycle may become her tormentors resulting in stigmatization. As she is a child herself, there is a lack of capacity to adequately care for the resulting pregnancies and children. Whilst this may be a cultural norm, it still comes with emotional and psychological stagnation or regression whereby the child-bride never fully develops mentally as an adult. This results in isolation and poor interpersonal skills necessary for social development. Further reinforcing the social regression is the age gap between the husband and the girls. Evidence shows that child-brides are invariably married off to older men. A review of the Nigerian situation shows that the age difference ranges from 20 to 60 years (World Vision, 2008).121 This usually reinforces the inferiority felt by the girls and their acceptance of any domestic violence meted out on them. According to UNICEF, ‘domestic violence has physical, psychological, and fatal outcomes on child-brides who sometimes believe that their husbands have the right to beat them.’ (UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2000). This legacy is transmitted to their children and the cycle continues. Poverty: This social implication is directly related to the education rights. As mentioned, education comes to an end once the girl child is married off. The resultant effect is that she becomes very poor since she has no source of livelihood. She, therefore, becomes completely dependent on her husband. The importance of education of girls can, therefore, not be over-emphasized. An educated girl is an economic and social asset to herself, her family, and society at large (Collins, 2014; Idoko, 2010). ‘Child-brides suffer from an inferiority complex and perceive themselves and their future roles as sex objects, subservient to men and trapped in, rather than determining, their traditional roles’ (Friedman, 1992). Gender-based violence: According to the group, Girls Not Brides, child marriage is a form of gender violence as such marriages put the child-bride at risk of domestic violence at the hands of both her husband and his relations which is both physical and psychological (Girls Not Brides, 2014).122 The group observed that, due to the age of the child-bride, her first sexual encounter is forced and this experience continues throughout the marriage (Girls Not Brides, 2014).123 The connection between child marriage and domestic violence is well documented by the CEDAW Committee. Its General Recommendation 19 observed that child marriages lead to the deprivation of human rights and the perpetration of gender-violence against women. In fact, scholars have argued, that the servile marriage of children to adults amounts to slavery, and although this link has not been recognized by international law, currently pressure is growing on the international community to do so (Turner, 2013). IV. CONCLUSION The article shows that, despite the domestication of the CRC and ACRWC, Nigeria is home to the largest number of child-brides in Africa.124 This is an obvious failure on the part of Nigerian government to comply with its obligations under the CRC and ACRWC. This shortcoming is as a result of several factors: First, women and child rights issues are residual subject matters in the Constitution, the implication being that States in Nigeria must adopt the CRA before it applies in the States. Secondly, item 61 of the Second Schedule, Part 1 of the Constitution prevents the National Assembly from legislating with respect to customary law and Islamic law marriages. This implies that child marriage could be validly contracted under the two laws notwithstanding statutory prohibitions. Thirdly, registration of births is so irregular that it is very difficult to know the age of the bride at marriage to determine whether the marriage is a child marriage coupled with the fact that most marriages are not registered. Fourthly, inadequate implementation of the education rights of the child-brides entrenches poverty amongst them. To eliminate child marriage a number of measures are necessary. First, the Constitution needs to be amended, so that women and child rights issues will be transferred to the Concurrent Legislative List. In this way the CRA will automatically apply throughout the country and prevail over all inconsistent laws. A uniform minimum age for marriage will, therefore, become applicable. Item 61 needs to be reviewed to enable the National Assembly to legislate with respect to customary law and Islamic law marriages which will harmonize the three legal regimes namely, civil, customary, and Islamic laws. Section 29(4)(b) should be expunged from the Constitution. Secondly, immediate registration of births and marriages should be made mandatory. Thirdly, with the ubiquity of mobile phones now even in the rural areas of Nigeria (as in other developing countries), it is recommended that mHealth125 be employed in creating health awareness and in getting necessary information to the hard-to-reach vulnerable rural child-bride, to enlighten them on the need to take care of their health, attend anti-natal clinics, educate the girl-child and her parents about the dangers of child marriage. Finally, government needs to enforce policies that will encourage the child-bride to realize her education rights and become educated, self-sufficient and independent. REFERENCES Adedokun O. , Adeyemi O. , Dauda C. 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Footnotes 1 Human Rights Watch; Q & A: Child Marriage & Violations of Girl’s Rights available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/06/14/q_child_marriage_violations_girls_rights (last accessed on 8 June 2017). 2 UNICEF (UN Children… (US)) available at https://data.unicef.org/wp_content/uploads/2015 (last accessed on 25 May 2017). 3 Ibid. 4 See section 18 of the Act provides that a person below the age of 21 years is a minor. 5 In Nigeria, since customary and Islamic laws encourage child marriage, it simply means that a child married off at the age of 13 years will be presumed to have attained the age of 18 years. 6 See section 277 of Child Rights Act (CRA), Act 26 of 2003; section 116 Immigration Act 2015, section 12 Electoral Act, No 6 of 2010 and section 29(4)(a) of the constitution. 7 These signs appear before the age of 18 years. 8 These include UDHR, CEDAW, Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). 9 For example, Islamic Laws of Nigeria. Marriage Act CAP M6 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004. Matrimonial Causes Act CAP M7 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004. 10 Ibid, (n 8). 11 Ending Child Marriage: A Guide for Global Policing Action, The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IFPF) (2006) UK Portfolio Publishing Co., 6. Available at https://www.unfpa.org (last accessed on 6 June 2017). 12 Child Marriage and the Law, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) New York, 2008, 8. Available at https://www.unicef.org (last accessed on May 25, 2017). 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid. 15 The UDHR stipulates that free and full consent is an essential ingredient for a valid marriage. The event of marriage is supposed to be a momentous and most joyful moment for any bride, hence she gives her consent willingly to be united with the love of her life. When this is not the case, there are some disastrous consequences as was seen in these cases: Maimuna v Nigeria ECW/CC/Jud/14/14 and Wasila Tasi’u’s case, where the wives aged 13 and 14 years, respectively, were accused of killing their husbands. In the second case, the girl testified that she was forced to marry her late husband. The parents testified that she gave her consent, that she chose her late husband from the list of men seeking her hand in marriage. This shows that the consent was not willingly given and, therefore, was not free and full as required by Article 16(b) of UDHR. 16 CEDAW available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/convention_on_the_elimination_of…html (last accessed on 19 June 2017). 17 United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, CEDAW available at www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw (last accessed on 1 June 2017). 18 CEDAW : States Parties available at www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/states.html (last accessed on 1 June 2017). 19 UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), CEDAW General Recommendation No.21: Equality in Marriage in Marriage and Family Relations, 1994 available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/48abd52c0.html (last accessed on 14 October 2017). 20 For example, Jigawa State. 21 This can range from 10 to 14 years depending on the child. 22 Kwara, Plateau, and Cross River States. 23 Convention on the Rights of the Child available at https:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/convention_on_the_rights_of_the_child (last accessed on 23 May 2017). 24 United Nations Treaty Collection available at https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_n=w-11 (last accessed on 22 May 2017). 25 UNICEF Information Sheet available at https://www.unicef.org/wcaro/WCARO_Nigeria_factsheets_CRA (last accessed on 22 May 2017). 26 UNICEF Information Sheet: The CRA; available at https://www.org/wcaro/WCARO_Nigeria_factsheets_CRA (last accessed on 6 June 2017). 27 Cohen observed that the CRC is so comprehensive in its protection of the girl child; the authors observed that the final text of the convention is comprehensive and encompasses the full range of human rights protections. 28 That is, right to life, freedom from all forms of discrimination and right against inhuman and degrading treatment. 29 See Article 28. 30 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_Charter_on_the_Rights_and_welfare_of_the_child (last accessed on 3 June 2017). 31 Ratification Table/ African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child available at www.achpr.org/instruments/child/ratification/ (last accessed on 3 June 2017). 32 Member States of the Organization of African Unity, parties to the present Charter, shall recognize the rights, freedoms, and duties enshrined in this Charter and shall undertake the necessary steps, in accordance with their constitutional processes and with the provisions of the present Charter, to adopt such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the provisions of this Charter. 33 See Article 2 of the Charter 34 See Article 21(2) ibid. 35 The customary laws applicable in Nigeria include tribal customary law and Islamic law. That Islamic law is part of customary law especially in the northern part of the country is made explicit by section 2 of the Native Courts Law, 1958 (Cap 78 of the Laws of Northern Nigeria, 1963). 36 See section 3(1) of the Age of Marriage Law, 1956, Laws of Eastern Nigeria, 1963, Cap 6. The section provides that a marriage between two persons neither of whom is up to 16 years shall be void. 37 See section 49 Native Authority Law (Laws of Northern Nigeria, 1963, Cap 77); section 2 (1) (a) Native Authority (Declaration of Idoma Native Marriage and Custom) Order Native Authority Legal Notice (NALN) 63 of 1959; section 2 (a) N A (Declaration of Tiv) Order NALN 149 of 1955; section 2 (1) (a) N A (Declaration of Borgu) Order, NALN 52 of 1961; section 1 (a) N A (Declaration of Biu) Order, NALN 9 of 1964. 38 See section 7, Marriage, Divorce and Custody of Children Adoptive Bye-Law Order 1958. 39 See Adisatu Awero v Olajida Ishola (1962) Case no. B/229/62 (Unreported) where the court held that under customary law a marriage without the consent of the girl’s parents is invalid. Also in Dura Aonde v Yomekaa Agoii Suit No. GBB/32A/1981 (Unreported) it was held that under the Tiv customary law a marriage will not be valid unless the father or person acting in loco parentis gives his consent. 40 Maimuna v Nigeria (n 15) and Wasila Tasi’u’s case (n 15). 41 Cap M6 The Laws Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004 42 Cap M7 LFN 2004. 43 Cap C50 LFN 2004. 44 See section 18 of the Marriage Act. 45 See section 33(3) ibid. See also Agbo v Udo (1947) 18 NLR 152, where the court held that notwithstanding the absence of consent of the parents the marriage is valid within the provisions of section 33(3) of the Marriage Act. 46 See section 3(1)(e) Matrimonial Causes Act. 47 See section 21 of the CRA 2003. 48 See section 277 ibid, (section 22). 49 See section 22 ibid. 50 See section 23 ibid. 51 UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2015 available at https://www.unicef.org/publicationn/index_1728.html (last accessed on 17 May 2017). 52 Since the domestication of the CRC in 2003, 26 States namely Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Imo, Jigawa, Kwara, Lagos, Nassarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Niger, Kogi, Taraba, Enugu, and Kaduna, have adopted the CRA. The 10 States namely Adamawa, Bauchi, Bornu, Gombe, Kano, Kastina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara yet to adopt the CRA are all Northern States. However, Zamfara, Kastina, and Yobe are currently considering the adoption of the CRA. See Failings of the Child Rights Law; This Day, 10 March 2017, available at https://www.pressreader.com/nigeria/thisday/20170310/2820805716/36307 (last accessed on 23 May 2017). 53 See Pt. II 2nd Schedule of the Constitution. 54 In fact, the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria instituted an action against the Federal Government and National Assembly before the Federal High Court Abuja and sought the nullification of certain sections of the CRA including section 21 which provides that 18 years is the minimum age for marriage and any marriage where the parties are not 18 years is null and void. According to the Council the Koran and Hadiths support child marriage: See K Nwezeh; ‘Yerima –Sharia Council drags Federal Government, National Assembly to court, 4 June 2010 available at http://www.allafrica.com/stories/201006071572html (last accessed on 24 May 2017). 55 Kwara, Plateau, and Akwa Ibom States. 56 See section 274 of the Kwara State CRL 2007; section 273 of the Plateau State CRL 2005; and Akwa Ibom State CRL available at http://www.aksgonline.com.ws)33.alentus.com/child_rights_law.aspx (last accessed on 15 May 2017). 57 See section 15(1) of Jigawa State CRL. 58 See section 2(2) ibid. 59 Ibid. 60 A good example is the case of Senator Ahmed Yerima who married a 13-year old Egyptian girl in 2010, 7 years after domestication of the CRC. He is from Zamfara State which has not adopted the CRA. He contended that since his marriage to the girl is approved by the Koran and celebrated under Islamic law he has not contravened any law. See ‘Nigerian Senator defends teen marriage’ available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQJ.8Rbgiox4 (last accessed on 25 May 2017). 61 Ruling No. ECW/CCI/jud/14/14 available at https://www.crin.org/mode/40392 (last accessed on 25 May 2017). 62 See section 29 (4)(b) of the Constitution. 63 The decision of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Community Court might seem to contradict the constitution. But this is so, because the court is an international court and is bound by the international legal system. However, it does not have the machinery to enforce its judgment, and that is why to date Maimuna awaits her freedom. 64 Divisive case: Nigeria drops murder charges against child-bride who poisoned 35-year old husband, available at mgafrica.com/article/2015_05_20_nigeria_drops_murder_charges_against_child_bride (last accessed on 27 May 2017). 65 Section 29(4) (b) 1999 CFRN: ‘Any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age’ available at www.vanguardngr.com/13/8/s.294b_1999_cfrn (last accessed on 27 May 2017). 66 In the first voting, 85 Senators supported the recommendation but in the second voting, only 60 Senators voted for the removal of the paragraph. 67 See M Uwais; Senator Yerima and Constitutional Review available at www.saharareport.com/2013/…/senator_yerima_and_constitutional_review (last accessed on 29 May 2017). 68 Ibid. 69 This is why Senator Yerima was not prosecuted when he married the 13-year old Egyptian girl in Nigeria in 2010, despite the domestication of CRC at the time, because he married her under Islamic law. 70 These include the rights to life, dignity of the human person, against discrimination, etc. 71 [2002] FWLR (Pt. 129) p. 1453. 72 Ibid, at p.1459. 73 See section 33 of the Constitution; Article 6 CRC; Articles 5(1) and 21(1)(a) ACRWC and sections 3 and 4 CRA. 74 Humanium; Right to life: Understanding children’s right to life available at www.humanium.org/en/fundamentalrights/life (last accessed on 8 June 2017). 75 Article 6(2) CRC; section 4 CRA. 76 Article 21(1)(a) ACRWC. 77 Article 6(2) CRC; Article 21(1)(a) ACRWC; section 4 of CRA. 78 section 34 of the constitution. 79 sections 3 and 11 CRA. 80 Article 37(a) CRC. 81 Articles 16(1) and 21(1)(a) ACRWC. 82 [1991] NWLR (Pt. 200) 708 at 764 – 78. 83 Ibid, at p. 780. 84 A pathetic case occurred in Bauchi State, where a 9-year old girl, Hauwa Abubakar, was married to a 40-year old cattle dealer, to whom the father was indebted. She ran away from the husband’s house three times and each time she was forcefully brought back by her parents. On the third occasion, the husband pinned her down and chopped off her legs with a poisoned cutlass which eventually led to her death. See United Nations (2001) Report on Children’s and Women’s Rights in Nigeria: A wake up call (SAA 2001) available at http://www.worldcat.org/title/children_and_women_rights_in_Nigeria_wake_up_call (last accessed on 10 June 2017). 85 Child marriage violates rights available at news.bbc.co.uk/1/ni/1206979.stm (last accessed on 8 June 2017) 86 Article 21(1) ACRWC. 87 Article 21(1)(a) ibid. 88 section 42 of the constitution. 89 section 10 CRA. 90 Article 2 CRC. 91 Articles 3 and 21(1)(b) ACRWC. 92 Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse available at https://www.unicef.org/protection/57929_58008.html (last accessed on 15 June 2017). 93 [2008] All FWLR (Pt. 433) 1293. 94 Ibid, at p.1318. 95 Gender Equality in Nigeria/Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) available at www.genderindex.org/country/nigeria (last accessed on 15 June 2017). 96 World Health Organization (WHO), ‘Women’s health’, Fact Sheet No. 334 (updated September 2013) available from www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs334/en/ (last accessed 14 August 2017). 97 There may be other variants involving other pelvic organs such as the uterus, cervix, ureters, and urethra, etc. 98 Only one in 13 health facilities (17.7 per cent) provide comprehensive emergency obstetric care services in Nigeria ((United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 2008, as provided in the National Strategic Framework for the Elimination of Obstetrics Fistula in Nigeria 2011–2015) available at https://www.medbox.org/ng-policies-others/national-strategic-framework-for-the-elimination-of-obstetrics-fistula-in-nigeria-2011-2015/preview?= (last accessed on 16 June 2017) 2008) 99 69th UNGA-SG Report ‘Supporting efforts to end obstetric fistula’, August 2014, p. 2. 100 Ibid. 101 Ten facts on obstetric fistula available at www.who.int/features/factfiles/obstetric_fistula/en/ (last accessed on 14 August 2017). 102 This is known as the Maputo Plan of Action for the operationalization of the Continental Policy Framework on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights to address reproductive health challenges in Africa. 103 For instance, the regional fistula meeting organized by UNFPA in Senegal in 2013 bringing together representatives of nine ministries of health, 14 fistula treatment centres, civil society organizations, and professional associations from West and Central Africa. 104 Resolution 62/138, available at: http://www.un.org/en/ga/62/resolutions.shtml (last accessed on 15 September 2017). 105 Resolution 65/188 adopted on 21 December 2010 and available at: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N10/523/82/PDF/N1052382.pdf?OpenElement; Resolution 67/147 adopted 20 December 2012 available at: http://www.un.org/en/ga/67/resolutions.shtml (last accessed on 15 September 2017). 106 See 69th UNGA-SG Report (n 99). p.12. Also, the Engender Health led Fistula Care research project has contributed much to the awareness and control of fistula in Nigeria. 107 Executive summary: National Strategic Framework for the Elimination of Obstetrics Fistula in Nigeria 2011–2015. 108 69th UNGA-SG Report (n 99). See (n 104)(n 105)p. 2. 109 North eastern Nigeria has six (6) states, namely-Taraba, Adamawa, Bauchi, Bornu, Gombe, and Yobe States. North eastern geo-political zone of Nigeria is reputed to be the poorest, the most educationally backward and has the highest rate of child marriage in Nigeria. 110 69th UNGA-SG Report (n 99). See (n 104)(n 105) p.3 111 State of World Population 2013: Motherhood in Childhood – Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.13.III.H.1). 112 See (n 108). 113 State of World Population 2013: Motherhood in Childhood (n 111) available at http://www.ungei.org/infobycountry/nigeria.html (last accessed on 1 August 2017). 114 Ibid. 115 Ibid 116 See (n 113). 117 The key institutions in this regard on the international platform being United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), UNGEI, the World Bank, the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Committee on the Rights of the Child, the AU, the International Centre for Research on Women; and on the domestic level, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Centre for Learning and Educational Development Advocacy Africa (CLEDA-Africa) etc. 118 See section 18 of the constitution. 119 See Article 15 of CRA. 120 See Article 28(1) of CRC and Article 11 of ACRWC. 121 World Vision (2008) ‘Before she’s ready: 15 places girls marry by 15’, pp. 18–20; Gordon Brown, ‘Out of wedlock, into school: combating child marriage through education’ 16–19. 122 Where the relatives do not take part in the violence meted out on the child, they sometimes reinforce it by teaching the child that is ‘normal’ and that it is her duty to endure it. 123 Girls Not Brides available at http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/why-is-child-marriage-a-form-of-violence-against-women-and-girls (last accessed on 3 August 2017). 124 UNICEF (n 2) (last accessed on 24 May 2017). 125 mHealth is the use of mobile technology for health delivery, sharing of health information, or even information about disease outbreaks to people in hard-to-reach areas and remote villages. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family Oxford University Press

The Legal, Medical and Social Implications of Child Marriage in Nigeria

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Abstract

Abstract Nigeria is among the top 20 countries in Africa with the highest number of child-brides, mainly because child marriage is deeply entrenched in the country’s custom and religion. However, the practice is particularly prevalent in certain ethnic and religious communities in the Northern part of the country, with its attendant disastrous consequences including health hazards and social evils. There is, therefore, a need to abolish child marriage in the country. In order to do this, the following should be established: First, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 ought to be amended to ensure that 18 years minimum age for marriage provided in the Child’s Rights Act becomes applicable throughout the country for civil, customary, and religious marriages. Secondly, the registration machinery should be overhauled for effective registration of births and marriages both in urban and rural areas, which will help the appropriate authority enforce the minimum age of marriage. Thirdly, illiterate rural dwellers should be educated about the health hazards of child marriage and the importance and economic benefits of educating the girl child. INTRODUCTION Nigeria is among the top 20 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage in Africa.1 It has about 23 million girls and women married in childhood,2 because child marriage is deeply entrenched in the country’s custom and religion. However, it is particularly prevalent in certain ethnic and religious communities in the Northern part of the country.3 Child marriage, which applies to both boys and girls, is defined as a marriage where either of the parties is below 18 years. It is associated with violation of numerous child rights, particularly that of the girl child due to exposure to domestic violence, health hazards, and many social evils. Flowing from the foregoing is the question ‘who is a child’? Apart from the Marriage Act4 and section 29(4)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (the Constitution) which provides that any married woman is presumed to be 18 years,5 all other civil laws6 define a child as a person below 18 years. Customary and Islamic laws define a child as a person who has not attained the age of puberty, which is determined by the appearance of certain physical features like pubic hair, breast, and menstruation.7 In Nigeria, the conflicting positions over the age of childhood as seen above make it difficult to control child marriage. This article is divided into three parts. Part I explores the legal implications of child marriage, exposing why child marriage still persists in the country despite a legal framework that prohibits it. Part II discusses the health implications of child marriage. Part III shows that one of the disastrous consequences of this practice is that the girl child is denied the right to education, despite this being adequately provided for in the laws applicable in the country. Finally, the concluding section recommends how child marriage could be eliminated. I. LEGAL IMPLICATIONS OF CHILD MARRIAGE In Nigeria, the celebration of marriage is governed by international and regional instruments8 applicable in the country and also domestic laws.9 International Legal Framework: Nigeria has signed and ratified many international and regional instruments10 that protect the rights of the Nigerian child. These instruments have provisions that directly or indirectly prohibit and discourage child marriage. However, there are some loopholes in these instruments that make it difficult to eradicate child marriage in Nigeria and, therefore, remain at best, rhetoric, or a general declaration of principles, without effective national policies and mechanisms to implement and enforce them.11 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR): Nigeria, as a member of the United Nations (UN), is a signatory to the UDHR. The UDHR did not specifically prohibit child marriage, but this could be inferred from Article 16(b) which states that ‘marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending parties’. The recognition that the intending parties to the marriage must give their free and full consent means that the UDHR discourages child marriage. In most child marriages, consent is not free and full, since the child-bride is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner.12 Considering the domineering influence of parents and guardians within the context of strong religious or traditional norms, children are colluded or forced into marriage.13 Some child-brides even give their consent as a duty or sign of respect.14 In all such marriages consent is not free and full and violates the UDHR.15 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW): CEDAW was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and was instituted in 1981 and has been ratified by 189 countries.16 Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice.17 Nigeria signed the Convention on 23 April 1984 and ratified it on 13 May 1985.18 CEDAW in Article 16(2) specifically prohibits child marriage by providing that: The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory. By the words of the above mentioned article, child marriage is illegal in any country that ratified CEDAW. In the General Recommendation 21 in 1994 (para 36) the CEDAW Committee considers that the minimum age for marriage should be 18 years for both men and women. This is to ensure that they are fully matured and have the capacity to assume the important responsibilities of marriage.19 The implication of this is that State parties while exercising the power given to them in Article 16(2) should not specify a minimum age for marriage lower than 18 years otherwise that will mean breaching their obligations under CEDAW. This notwithstanding, it has been noted that the power given to State parties to specify by legislation the minimum age for marriage has allowed them to easily avoid obligations under Article 16(2) (Askari, 1998). For example, in Nigeria some States20 by legislation prescribed the age of puberty21 as the minimum age for marriage while some22 prescribed 16 years. In order to understand the position of CEDAW, Article 16(2) should not be read in isolation but should be read together with General Recommendation 21 in 1994 (para 36). When this happens, it will be seen that CEDAW directly prohibits child marriage. In breach of the above provision many marriages are not registered, especially those conducted in the rural areas, and therefore, it is very difficult to discover child marriages. As in the UDHR, Article 16(1)(b) of CEDAW recognizes that each party to a marriage must give her/his free and full consent. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC): The CRC was adopted and opened for signature, ratification, and accession by the UN on 20 November 1989.23 Nigeria ratified the Convention on 16 April 1991.24 The Convention enjoins that Member States shall undertake to disseminate the Convention’s principles and take all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the Convention.25 Against this background, the Child’s Rights Bill based on the principles enshrined in the CRC and African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) was drafted in 1993. The draft bill was passed 10 years later by the National Assembly in July 2003 and became the Child’s Rights Act (CRA) 2003.26 The CRA 2003 is, therefore, the domestication of the CRC and ACRWC (referred to below). The CRC is an instrument fundamentally geared towards the protection of the rights of a child. Contrary to the opinion of some writers, it is not a comprehensive instrument (Cohen, 1997; Cohen and Miljeteig-Olssen, 1990–1991).27 It is deficient in the protection of some child rights, particularly that of the girl child. Since this article is focused on child marriage, we intend to limit our discussion to those deficiencies relating to child marriage. The CRC specifically omitted prohibiting child marriage or stating the minimum age for marriage. Child marriage is known to violate a host of the fundamental rights of the child especially the girl child.28 This omission and the provisions of Articles 1 and 14(2) of the CRC seem to support child marriage (Braimah, 2014) contrary to Cohen’s position that the convention should be recognized as an important feminist landmark (Cohen, 1997). Article 1 provides that: ‘For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child majority is attained earlier.’ Although Article 1 prescribes that a child is someone below the age 18 years, it contradicts itself by the phrase ‘unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier’, because in some States parties a child, particularly a girl, is considered to have attained the age of majority once she shows signs of puberty, which in some children come as early as 9 years. In Northern Nigeria, Islamic law prescribes that a child is presumed to be physically and physiologically capable of consummating marriage on the attainment of puberty. Thus, the phrase encourages child marriage and, therefore, contradicts the definition of a child provided by CRC. Secondly, Article 14(2) provides that: ‘States parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child’. By this provision, the CRC recognized the rights and duties of parents or guardians to provide directions to their child, which could mean that parents or guardians can legally train their child to obey and observe the tenets of their religion and custom which include, especially for Muslims, child marriage. However, these deficiencies notwithstanding, there are some provisions of the CRC which indirectly prohibit child marriage. For example, Article 3 stipulates that in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. It, therefore, follows that encouraging child marriage is not in the best interests of the child because of the adverse consequences associated with child marriage. Child marriage it has been noted ‘produces a rejection of infancy and adolescence, social impoverishment, a restraint of individual freedom of children and a denial of their psychosocial and emotional security, reproductive health and other development opportunities’ (Van Coller, 2017). A practice that encourages the above stated is not in the best interests of the child and ought to be eliminated. It has also been tersely observed that the CRC ‘should not be interpreted to allow States parties to establish marriage ages incompatible with the provisions, aims and objectives of the CRC, including the principle of the best interests of the child in Article 3’ (Detrick, 1999). Thus, it was rightly observed that ‘a proposed outcome for a child cannot be said to be in his or her best interest where it conflicts with the provisions of the Convention’ (Tobin, 2006). This is exactly what happens when States parties legalize a marriage age that is below 18 years. Article 6 provides that every child has the inherent right to life. It is well known that the health hazards associated with child marriage are life-threatening. Maternal mortality is higher in child pregnancy and this threatens the right to life of the child-bride. Article 7 provides for the registration of a child immediately after birth. This will enable the appropriate authority to know the age of the bride at marriage and take the necessary action. Article 19 protects a child, among others, from sexual abuse. Child marriage is a form of sexual abuse against the girl child. The practice of child marriage invariably contravenes Article 19. Article 24(3) provides that: ‘States parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children’. In most countries where child marriage is practised, it is regarded as their tradition. For instance, in Nigeria child marriage is rampant in the Northern part of the country among the Hausa–Fulani where child marriage is part of their tradition (Braimah, 2014). Article 24(3) could, therefore, be invoked to abolish child marriage. Finally, the CRC provides that the child has a right to education,29 which is breached by child marriage, because the child-bride drops out of school once she gets married. ACRWC: The instrument originated because State members of the African Union (AU) felt that the CRC omitted some important socio-cultural and economic realities peculiar to Africa (Okpalaobi and Ekwueme, 2015). The ACRWC was adopted by the AU in 1990 and came into force in 1999.30 Nigeria signed the ACRWC on 13 July 1999, ratified it on 23 July 200131 and domesticated it in September 2003, in compliance with the obligation of State parties provided in Article 1(1) of ACRWC.32 The ACRWC is a more comprehensive instrument in the protection of the rights of the child when compared with the CRC. The ACRWC defines a child as every human being below the age of 18 years.33 Unlike the CRC, the ACRWC specifically prohibits child marriage and betrothal of girls and boys and stipulates that effective action including legislation should be taken by State members to specify the minimum age for marriage as 18 years.34 Domestic Legal Framework: Nigeria has a tripartite legal framework of civil, customary, and religious laws that govern the celebration of marriage. The difficulty in harmonizing these laws in relation to marriage is why it is almost impossible to eliminate child marriage in the country. Customary and Islamic Laws: The various customary laws35 applicable in Nigeria recognize child marriage and child betrothal, because initially these laws did not prescribe any age for marriage. This lacuna was what really encouraged child marriage and child betrothal with their attendant evils in many communities in Nigeria (Nwogugu, 2001). However, subsequently some parts of the country enacted legislation to fix the minimum age for customary law marriages. The Eastern Region prescribes 16 years.36 In the Northern Region, the various Native Authorities prescribe the marriageable age for their different localities which range from 12 to 14 years.37 In the Western Region no law prescribes a minimum age. The applicable law in this respect prescribes that in a petition for divorce, the court should take into consideration whether the parties were betrothed under marriageable age38 without defining the term ‘marriageable age’. Islamic Law: Under Islamic laws the age of marriage depends on puberty and maturity, and varies according to tradition between different ages under 18 years. Consent of the parties and the parents is an essential requirement for the celebration of a valid marriage under the customary law and Islamic law. In both laws, the consent of the parties especially that of the girl is treated as a mere formality, but that of the parents is an essential prerequisite to a valid marriage.39 The reason for this is that marriage is regarded as a contract between the two families. So a girl is practically forced to accept the suitor selected by her parents, and sometimes there are disastrous consequences as will be seen in the two cases;40 discussed below where the child-brides were accused of killing their husbands. Civil Laws: Statutory marriage in Nigeria is governed by the Marriage Act,41 the Matrimonial Causes Act42 and the CRA 2003.43 The Marriage Act recognizes that a person who has not attained the age of 21 years is a minor and, therefore, can only contract a valid marriage if the parent or guardian gives written consent.44 Therefore, parental consent can validate the marriage of a child aged 13 or 14 years. Failure to obtain the requisite consent before the marriage will not invalidate a marriage already celebrated;45 neither will the parties to the marriage be prosecuted under section 48 of the Act. The above mentioned flaws coupled with the fact that the Act does not specify a minimum age for marriage means that the Act encourages child marriage. The defect of not specifying a minimum age was not cured by the Matrimonial Causes Act enacted in 1970. That Act merely stipulates that a marriage is void where either of the parties is not of marriageable age,46 but failed to define the term ‘marriageable age’ or provide a minimum age for marriage (Onokah, 2003). However, the CRA 2003 has resolved this problem. The Act specifically provides that the minimum age for marriage is 18 years47 and defines a child as a person under the age of 18 years.48 Furthermore, the Act not only prohibits child marriage and child betrothal,49 but also provides that a person who marries a child or promotes child marriage or child betrothal will be prosecuted and punished.50 The Act also provides in Article 5(2) for mandatory registration of births, but this has not helped because registration of birth in the country is so irregular that most times it is impossible to know the age of the bride at marriage. Unfortunately, child marriages still persist in Nigeria and are mostly rampant in the Northern part of the country that is predominantly Muslim. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) statistics, nationally 28 per cent of girls marry under 18 years, but in the Northwest and Northeast regions the figure is 68 per cent and 76 per cent, respectively, and in the Southeast and Southwest regions it is 6 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively.51 This is because the CRA is a federal enactment and not automatically applicable in the 36 States of the Federation.52 Child rights protection issues are residual matters in the Constitution53 within the exclusive legislative competence of the States. Some States in the Northern part of the country are reluctant to adopt the CRA, contending that the law conflicts with their cultural and Islamic traditions, particularly in relation to the minimum age of marriage.54 Some States55 that adopted the CRA define a child as a person under 16 years in their Child’s Rights Law (CRL).56 The Jigawa State CRL, although prohibiting child marriage,57 defines a child as a person below the age of puberty,58 and defines puberty as the age when a person is physically and physiologically capable of consummating a marriage.59 In these States and those States that have yet to adopt the CRA, a child under the age of 18 years can be legally married. Although contrary to the CRA this cannot be prosecuted60 since the CRA is not automatically applicable in the States. This is why child marriage still persists in Nigeria notwithstanding the domestication of the CRC and ACRWC since 2003. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999: The Constitution has no provision prohibiting child marriage, but has indirectly encouraged child marriage, as a result of the provisions of section 29 and the Second Schedule, Part 1, Item 61. Section 29(1) provides that ‘a citizen of Nigeria who is of full age and wishes to renounce his citizenship can make a declaration in the prescribed manner’. Section 29(4) states that for purposes of subsection (1): (i) Full age means the age of 18 years and above; and (ii) Any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age. Therefore, a girl who is married before the age of 18 years automatically attains full age by virtue of the provision of section 29(4)(b). This happened in Maimuna Abdulmumini v FRN, Kastina State and the Nigerian Prison Service61 where Maimuna, aged 13 years, was arrested in relation to an arson which resulted in the death of her husband of 5 months. It took 2 years before criminal charges were officially filed against her. She was assigned a legal counsel who did not make any mitigation plea on her behalf. The State contended that, although she was 13 years when the offence was committed, according to the law she was an adult because she was married at the time. The court upheld the contention and sentenced Maimuna to death by hanging. While on death row, she was met by lawyers from Avocats Sans Frontieres (ASF France), an international organization that fights injustice across the world through its Saving Lives Project. The ASF France filed for a stay of execution on Maimuna’s behalf in the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja. It was argued that her right under Article 5(3) of the ACRWC, which expressly prohibits death sentence for crimes committed by children, had been violated. The State argued that, since Maimuna was married, in law she is considered to be of full age, therefore, the death sentence is constitutionally permitted.62 The court upheld the contention of the ASF France and suspended the sentence.63 In another case, Wasila Tasi’u, another child-bride aged 14 years, was charged with culpable homicide for killing her husband of 5 days when she laced his food with rat poison. However, the case was dropped when the Attorney-General of Katsina State entered a nolle prosequi due to pressure from human rights activists.64 During the review of the Constitution, the Senate Committee recommended the removal of section 29(4) (b) from the Constitution. This was adopted by the Senate, but Senator Yerima opposed the adoption contending that the removal of the paragraph from the Constitution was against the tenets of Islam.65 He requested a second vote and, when granted, he lobbied and was able to convince many Muslim Senators to vote against the recommendation, resulting in the Senate being unable to muster the required two-thirds majority votes to remove the controversial provision from the Constitution.66 Many Nigerians noted that the Senate, by this action, has legalized child marriage. Some Muslims opposed Senator Yerima’s position on age of marriage in Islam and observed that in Islam, where a practice is merely permissible and not mandatory, it is practicable and entirely feasible to discourage or prohibit it, where it is harmful to individuals and the community.67 This is why some Muslim countries like Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Somalia, and Bangladesh have set the minimum age for marriage as 18 years in acknowledgment of the serious, physical, and mental health hazards associated with child marriage.68 The Second Schedule Part 1 of the Constitution sets out matters that are reserved exclusively for the National Assembly. By Item 61 this includes: ‘The formation, annulment and dissolution of marriages other than marriages under Islamic law and customary law including matrimonial causes relating thereto’. This, therefore, means that the National Assembly cannot legislate with respect to Islamic law and customary law marriages, and is why the minimum age for marriage prescribed in the CRA cannot apply to such marriages.69Braimah (2014) observed that item 61 rendered the CRA useless. Child marriage and violation of the human rights of the girl child: Child marriage remains a widely ignored violation of the human rights of the girl child in Nigeria and this has tarnished the human rights image of the country (Ukwuoma, 2014). A host of human rights70 are enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution as well as a number of international and regional instruments, some of which have been domesticated as part of Nigerian laws. This implies that the girl child just like every other person in the country is entitled to enjoy these rights. No one can under the guise of any custom or religion legally prevent her from enjoying these rights. In Uke v Iro71 the court observed that: ‘A custom which strives to deprive a woman of constitutionally guaranteed rights is otiose and offends the provisions that guarantee equal protection under the law’.72 Those human rights of the girl child violated by child marriage will be discussed below. The Right to life is a universally recognized right73 for all human beings. For children it means protecting them from birth74 and giving them the chance to survive75 and have normal growth,76 to develop77 and attain their full potential. This cannot be achieved when a child is married off at a very tender age, below 18 years. Child marriage, therefore, threatens the health and life of the girl child as explained in detail in the next part of this article. In Nigeria the right against inhuman and degrading treatment is proclaimed in the Constitution,78 national laws,79 and international,80 and regional81 instruments applicable in the country. The right is intended to protect the Nigerian child from all forms of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment which have been defined in Uzoukwu v Ezeonu II82 as follows: ‘Torture includes mental harassment as well as physical brutalization. Inhuman treatment characterizes any act without feeling for the suffering of the other. Degrading treatment is the element of lowering the societal status, character, value or position of a person’.83 Child marriage which is deeply entrenched in our tradition, culture, and religion (Adedokun et al, 2016) inflicts the girl child with mental and physical torture. It is a practice degrading to the dignity, value, and status of the girl child (Ukwuoma, 2014). Child marriage uproots a girl child from the safe environment of her home and the protective influence of her parents, where she is nurtured as she exhibits her childishness, curiosity, immature, and uncoordinated behaviour as a growing child (Ukwuoma, 2014). She is transplanted to an environment where she is given a new role as a wife and responsibilities which include sexually satisfying her husband and performing some domestic duties attached to her new role. These of course, are beyond her capabilities as a child and affect her mental and physical well-being. A girl child not being prepared to face the transformation brought about by marriage is subjected to all forms of abuse such as psychological trauma, domestic violence84 and forced sexual acts by the husband (Adedokun et al, 2016). All these are torturing, inhuman, and degrading to the girl child. This is why the UNICEF correctly observed that child marriage condemns millions of young girls to a life of misery and pain.85 To ensure prohibition of child marriage the ACRWC provides in Article 16 that State parties shall take legislative and administrative measures to protect the child from all forms of torture, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Furthermore, the ACRWC provides that State parties shall take appropriate measures to eliminate customs and practices that affect the dignity,86 health or life87 of a child. Since, child marriage is entrenched in our tradition and culture, it has to be eliminated because it affects the dignity of the girl child. The Citizen Forum recommended the following amendment to section 34 of the Constitution: ‘No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman and degrading treatment whatsoever; the subjection of any man, woman or child to torture or degrading treatment on the basis of culture, custom, tradition or religion shall be prohibited’ (Pereira, 2004).This recommendation, if adopted, will strengthen the provision and go a long way to eliminate child marriage which is a major source of torture, inhuman, and degrading treatment on the girl child. The Constitution,88 CRA,89 CRC,90 and ACRWC91 guarantee the right to freedom from discrimination. These laws protect the Nigerian child from any form of discrimination merely by reason of his belonging to a particular community or ethnic group or by reason of his place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion. Sex being one of the grounds the Nigerian child should not be discriminated against, means both boys and girls should be equally treated. Unfortunately, traditionally boys are preferred to girls. Most families, especially in the rural areas, give preference to boy’s education and the girl child is married off at a very tender age and denied the same opportunities as the boy. Child marriage is, therefore, rooted in gender discrimination92 against the girl child and should be abolished. In Asika v Atuanya93 the Court observed that; ‘…if a custom tends to discriminate against a particular section of the populace, that even if not subject to litigation should not be allowed to prevail since it is against the tenets of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999’.94 However, it is important to note that the combination of federalism and a tripartite legal system applicable in Nigeria, makes it very difficult to harmonize legislation and remove the discriminatory measures95 associated with child marriage. II. MEDICAL IMPLICATIONS OF CHILD MARRIAGE One of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality for women of childbearing age all over the world is sexual and reproductive health problems.96 This is more so in developing countries with chronic issues of poor access to reproductive health services. It is further heightened by child marriage which exposes the child-bride to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), pregnancy before the first menstruation and before maternal pelvic growth is complete. The consequence of all these are health issues that begin to emerge including: obstetric fistula (vesicovaginal fistula, VVF and rectovaginal fistula, RVF), maternal mortality and morbidity as well as infant mortality and morbidity. Obstetric fistula is an abnormal opening or hole between the bladder and the vagina (VVF) or between the rectum and vagina (RVF).97 It occurs mainly in pregnant child-brides with immature pelvis and birth canal for vaginal delivery and who will consequently need an emergency caesarean section in order to deliver their babies. In Nigeria, where emergency obstetric care98 and trained medical personnel for caesarean sections is limited, especially in rural areas, such young girls often undergo prolonged and obstructed labour due to narrow/small pelvis or oversized foetus, thus making vaginal delivery impossible and often resulting in obstetric fistula (hole). It is generally produced when uterine contraction forces the foetal head to be stuck deep into the maternal pelvis, where it causes compression of the soft tissues against the bony pelvis. As the labour progresses, this eventually cuts off blood supply to the compressed tissues causing foetal and/or maternal death or morbidity, and also the tissues die and rot or tear away creating abnormal openings called fistula. This results in total loss of bladder and/or bowel control causing continuous and uncontrollable flow of urine and feaces through the vagina (Nnamuchi et al, 2016). The smell is horrendous with the result that women with obstetric fistula are usually abandoned by their husbands, families, friends, and neighbours. In fact, they are usually ostracized by the society, leading to low self-esteem, depression, mental imbalance, and even suicide. Additionally, the patients suffer from painful sores, bladder infection, kidney failures, and infertility.99 Also, the immature pelvis under prolonged pressure by the foetal head could be dislocated leading to severe orthopedic injury and permanent disability.100 Medical records obtained from Murtala Mohammed Specialist Hospital, Kano, in the North Central part of Nigeria, indicate an average of 159 VVF and 29 cases of RVF treated yearly from 2008 to 2016. This clearly shows a preponderance of cases of VVF, but it is believed that these numbers are underreported as many more languish in remote villages without any means of getting to the hospital or even without any knowledge that their condition could be cured or treated. This record shows that obstetric fistula can be treated through surgery but presently in Nigeria, like in most developing countries, a limited number of healthcare facilities are able to provide this care to the thousands in need of it.101 The government is, therefore, called upon to improve health systems and social infrastructures both in the urban and rural areas in order to provide prompt caesarean section for women going through prolonged and obstructed labour. Also, poverty alleviation, improved literacy of the girl-child and ending of harmful traditional practices have been recommended as ways of reducing the incidence of obstetrics fistula (Alabi, 2014). In 2006, the Executive Council of the AU authorized the Continental Policy Framework on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Africa.102 This regional initiative together with other regional efforts103 addressed reproductive health challenges in Africa and dealt substantially with obstetric fistula by promoting a more conducive and enabling environment to end it. The UN General Assembly acknowledged obstetric fistula as a major women’s health issue for the first time in 2007. On 18 December 2007, therefore, it adopted a resolution supporting efforts to eliminate it.104 In 2010 and 2012, there were subsequent resolutions105 in renewed efforts to end obstetric fistula. Nigeria, as a member of the UN is bound by these resolutions. In Nigeria, well-known centres like the Murtala Mohammed Specialist Hospital Kano and the Pope John Paul II Family Life Centre and Maternal Birth Injury Hospital, Mbribit Itam, in Akwa Ibom State and few other dedicated centres for the treatment of obstetric fistula have brought about marked improvement on the number of women who have benefited from the treatment of the condition. The number has increased from 2,000 in 2008 to 6,000 in 2013.106 But more has to be done. In fact, in Nigeria, an estimated 400,000–800,000 women and girls are living with fistula while an additional 12,000–20,000 new cases develop yearly.107 It has been observed by the World Health Organization (WHO) that obstetric fistula is preventable and can be avoided by delaying the age of first pregnancy, ending child marriage and timely access to obstetric care.108 STDs, which include Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and cervical cancer, are the most common health problem suffered by child-brides because the marriages are usually polygamous with multiple wives and in some cases mistresses maintained outside the marriage. With this background, coupled with ignorance and ingrained cultural rejection of condoms, it is common for husbands to engage in unprotected sex with the other wives and partners as well as the child-bride. This may expose the child-bride to sexually transmitted disease from the husband even before her first menstruation. A child-bride who contacts STD through the husband may nevertheless remain untreated either as a result of lack of access to healthcare, poverty or refusal of the husband to grant her the permission to go to hospital. A focus group discussion held with eight girls under 18 years who are currently in child marriages in Gamawa Local Government Area of Bauchi State, north-eastern Nigeria109 reveals that up to 79.2 per cent of a sample population of predominantly females in Bauchi State of Nigeria admitted to having contracted STDs multiple times (Allen and Adekola, 2017). Further revelations from the respondents indicate that incidents of STDs are followed by prolonged or obstructed labour and VVF among child-brides. Studies carried out in Kenya, Zambia, and Uganda show that married girls are more likely to become infected with HIV than unmarried girls (Nour, 2006). It was observed that the age difference between the husbands and their wives was a significant HIV risk factor for the wives (Kelly et al, 2003). The physiologically immature girls are generally highly prone to lacerations of the hymen, vaginal wall and the cervix, as a result of sexual intercourse with fully matured male husbands. These cuts and bruises, incidental to the sexual intercourse, render the child-bride very vulnerable to HIV infection (Nour, 2009). It was noted that other STDs such as herpes simplex virus type 2 infection, gonorrhea, and chlamydia are also often transmitted from husbands to their young wives, thus, further increasing the girls’ vulnerability to HIV. Research has also demonstrated that as the child-bride is vulnerable to HIV infection from the husband, she is equally susceptible to increased risks of human papillomavirus transmission and cervical cancer as a result of sexual intercourse with the husband (Nour, 2009). Child marriage is a key driver of early pregnancy before a girl is physiologically mature for childbearing. This increases the risk of maternal death among girls aged 15–19 years in many low- and middle-income countries including Nigeria.110 Each year, out of about 7.3 million births occurring among girls under the age of 18 years in developing countries, 2 million of these births occur among girls younger than 15 years.111 Due to the fact that the girl’s pelvis and birth canal are still underdeveloped, vaginal births often involve long and obstructive labour invariably leading to either the death of the child or mother or both. Where the child dies and the mother survives the ordeal, she may end up with debilitating life-long problem of obstetrics morbidity like obstetric fistula, dislocated pelvic bones, bladder infection, and even infertility.112 So, non-fatal obstetric trauma is really a major health problem of women in developing countries (including Nigeria), in general and immature mothers in particular. Besides, pregnant girls are at increased risk of acquiring diseases like malaria and they also have higher rates of malaria-related complications (predominantly pulmonary oedema, extreme cases of anaemia, and hypo glycaemia) and death than do non-pregnant women (Nour, 2006). Malaria parasite density is significantly higher in pregnant girls below 18 years than in pregnant women above 18 years.113 Also, malaria increases HIV viral load and the biological interaction between these diseases not only complicates treatment in an already challenging setting but also presents a serious risk of death to pregnant girls below 18 years.114 Therefore, there must be a concerted effort on the part of the government to make available free health care, especially in the antenatal clinics, for young women, and to increase the scope and quality of maternal health services. This will ultimately reduce the risk associated with maternal mortality and morbidity especially as they relate to prolonged and obstructed labour (Akpan, 2003). Child marriage increases the risk of infant and under-five mortality and morbidity. (Simbine and Aluko, 2016). Children born to child-brides also have a higher risk of malnutrition than children born to older mothers.115 Delaying marriage, therefore, would help reduce infant and child mortality. Adolescent mothers have a 35–55 per cent higher risk than older women for delivering infants who are preterm and of low birth weight. (Nour, 2006) Also, mortality rates are 73 per cent higher for infants born to mothers less than 20 years of age than for those born to older mothers (Nour, 2006). III. SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS OF CHILD MARRIAGE Education: The education of the girl child is recognized as one of the key indices of social development in any society. In recognition of the key role played by education, the international community has made certain commitments towards ensuring that education is kept at the forefront of development. The World Conference of Education For All (EFA) for instance, in 1990, recognized that the improvement of access to quality education for girls and women is of ‘most urgent priority’ (Kyari and Ayodele, 2014). In 2000, at the Dakar World Education Forum, over a hundred countries affirmed the importance of education for children with special emphasis on girls. They resolved that children, especially girls, require access to primary education of good quality by 2015 (Kyari and Ayodele, 2014). It was at this forum that the then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, launched the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) with a vision of ‘accelerating action on girls’ education to realize a world where all girls and boys are empowered through quality education to realize their full potential and contribute to transforming societies where gender equality becomes a reality.116 Many more forums both at domestic and international levels have recognized the importance of education for girls and made many commitments to realize this important social development goal (World Bank, 2015).117 To uphold the above aspiration in Nigeria, the Constitution,118 national laws,119 international, and regional instruments,120 provide the right to free primary education for the girl child. The Nigerian government has also initiated various policies that encourage education for all children with emphasis on the girl child, as seen in Table 1. The government has not been able to enforce effectively the laws and policies because of the incidence of child marriages. As a result, the girls drop out of school and start giving birth to children and this continues throughout their lifetime and they are denied the opportunity to go back to school. Their potential to contribute to the development of society is essentially cut short as they are often isolated. Table 1. Key policy initiatives with a gender focus in Nigeria Policy Initiative Year Intention Blueprint on Women’s education 1986 Expanded educational opportunities for women; discouraged withdrawal of girl children from school. Nomadic education programme 1986 Provided primary education to children of nomadic pastoral communities. National commission for mass literacy and non-formal education 1991 Reduced illiteracy by encouraging children to attend school; established functional literacy centres for women. Family support basic education programme 1994 Encouraged families in rural areas to accept education for girl children as a way to enhance child health and youth development. Universal basic education 1999 Boosted enrolment by ensuring that all children of schoolgoing age had access to primary and junior secondary education. National policy on women 2001 Enhanced access by locating facilities close to communities; enhanced teacher recruitment; provided incentives for girls to study mathematics and science. Education For All – fast track initiative 2002 Increased support for basic education. Strategy for acceleration of girls’ education in Nigeria 2003 Led to the launch in 2004 of the Girls’ Education Project; focused on an integrated approach to achieving gender parity. NEEDS 2004 A poverty reduction strategy that enhanced the integration of women in national development by increasing their capacity to participate in the economy and in employment. Universal Basic Education Act 2004 Provided pre-primary education; confirmed universal right to primary and early secondary education. Policy Initiative Year Intention Blueprint on Women’s education 1986 Expanded educational opportunities for women; discouraged withdrawal of girl children from school. Nomadic education programme 1986 Provided primary education to children of nomadic pastoral communities. National commission for mass literacy and non-formal education 1991 Reduced illiteracy by encouraging children to attend school; established functional literacy centres for women. Family support basic education programme 1994 Encouraged families in rural areas to accept education for girl children as a way to enhance child health and youth development. Universal basic education 1999 Boosted enrolment by ensuring that all children of schoolgoing age had access to primary and junior secondary education. National policy on women 2001 Enhanced access by locating facilities close to communities; enhanced teacher recruitment; provided incentives for girls to study mathematics and science. Education For All – fast track initiative 2002 Increased support for basic education. Strategy for acceleration of girls’ education in Nigeria 2003 Led to the launch in 2004 of the Girls’ Education Project; focused on an integrated approach to achieving gender parity. NEEDS 2004 A poverty reduction strategy that enhanced the integration of women in national development by increasing their capacity to participate in the economy and in employment. Universal Basic Education Act 2004 Provided pre-primary education; confirmed universal right to primary and early secondary education. Source: British Council Nigeria – Gender in Nigeria Report 2012. Table 1. Key policy initiatives with a gender focus in Nigeria Policy Initiative Year Intention Blueprint on Women’s education 1986 Expanded educational opportunities for women; discouraged withdrawal of girl children from school. Nomadic education programme 1986 Provided primary education to children of nomadic pastoral communities. National commission for mass literacy and non-formal education 1991 Reduced illiteracy by encouraging children to attend school; established functional literacy centres for women. Family support basic education programme 1994 Encouraged families in rural areas to accept education for girl children as a way to enhance child health and youth development. Universal basic education 1999 Boosted enrolment by ensuring that all children of schoolgoing age had access to primary and junior secondary education. National policy on women 2001 Enhanced access by locating facilities close to communities; enhanced teacher recruitment; provided incentives for girls to study mathematics and science. Education For All – fast track initiative 2002 Increased support for basic education. Strategy for acceleration of girls’ education in Nigeria 2003 Led to the launch in 2004 of the Girls’ Education Project; focused on an integrated approach to achieving gender parity. NEEDS 2004 A poverty reduction strategy that enhanced the integration of women in national development by increasing their capacity to participate in the economy and in employment. Universal Basic Education Act 2004 Provided pre-primary education; confirmed universal right to primary and early secondary education. Policy Initiative Year Intention Blueprint on Women’s education 1986 Expanded educational opportunities for women; discouraged withdrawal of girl children from school. Nomadic education programme 1986 Provided primary education to children of nomadic pastoral communities. National commission for mass literacy and non-formal education 1991 Reduced illiteracy by encouraging children to attend school; established functional literacy centres for women. Family support basic education programme 1994 Encouraged families in rural areas to accept education for girl children as a way to enhance child health and youth development. Universal basic education 1999 Boosted enrolment by ensuring that all children of schoolgoing age had access to primary and junior secondary education. National policy on women 2001 Enhanced access by locating facilities close to communities; enhanced teacher recruitment; provided incentives for girls to study mathematics and science. Education For All – fast track initiative 2002 Increased support for basic education. Strategy for acceleration of girls’ education in Nigeria 2003 Led to the launch in 2004 of the Girls’ Education Project; focused on an integrated approach to achieving gender parity. NEEDS 2004 A poverty reduction strategy that enhanced the integration of women in national development by increasing their capacity to participate in the economy and in employment. Universal Basic Education Act 2004 Provided pre-primary education; confirmed universal right to primary and early secondary education. Source: British Council Nigeria – Gender in Nigeria Report 2012. It can also be observed from Table 1 that the National Empowerment Development Economic and Strategy (NEEDS) recognized the need for education of women as a stepping stone for poverty reduction. This is realized when women are able to participate in employment and economy growth through adequate education. It is, therefore, safe to posit that the education of children, especially the girl child, is important as it opens up various possibilities for the girl child. When girls go to school, marriage and childbearing are delayed until they can make an informed decision on these matters. The Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2013 (NDHS) report shows that there is a correlation between the predominance of child marriages and lack of education. The highest proportions of women with no education are found in the north west and north east. The lowest proportions are in the south east and south west. The findings show that often female students enroll in primary school but do not make it to secondary school. One of the reasons for this lack of transition is the interruption of the girl child’s education by early marriage (CDD, 2013). Other factors connected to education stagnation on the part of the girl child include poverty, ignorance/illiteracy, and social stratification, religious, and cultural practices that have been historically accepted as the norm in some communities. Social regression including stigmatization and psychological underdevelopment: Another implication of child marriage is the psychological impact it has on the child-bride. First and foremost, the childhood of the girl is disrupted, which is recognized as the process for maturity into adulthood. The girl usually does not understand what she is getting into and as a result experiences mixed emotions. Her peers who do not fall into the same cycle may become her tormentors resulting in stigmatization. As she is a child herself, there is a lack of capacity to adequately care for the resulting pregnancies and children. Whilst this may be a cultural norm, it still comes with emotional and psychological stagnation or regression whereby the child-bride never fully develops mentally as an adult. This results in isolation and poor interpersonal skills necessary for social development. Further reinforcing the social regression is the age gap between the husband and the girls. Evidence shows that child-brides are invariably married off to older men. A review of the Nigerian situation shows that the age difference ranges from 20 to 60 years (World Vision, 2008).121 This usually reinforces the inferiority felt by the girls and their acceptance of any domestic violence meted out on them. According to UNICEF, ‘domestic violence has physical, psychological, and fatal outcomes on child-brides who sometimes believe that their husbands have the right to beat them.’ (UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2000). This legacy is transmitted to their children and the cycle continues. Poverty: This social implication is directly related to the education rights. As mentioned, education comes to an end once the girl child is married off. The resultant effect is that she becomes very poor since she has no source of livelihood. She, therefore, becomes completely dependent on her husband. The importance of education of girls can, therefore, not be over-emphasized. An educated girl is an economic and social asset to herself, her family, and society at large (Collins, 2014; Idoko, 2010). ‘Child-brides suffer from an inferiority complex and perceive themselves and their future roles as sex objects, subservient to men and trapped in, rather than determining, their traditional roles’ (Friedman, 1992). Gender-based violence: According to the group, Girls Not Brides, child marriage is a form of gender violence as such marriages put the child-bride at risk of domestic violence at the hands of both her husband and his relations which is both physical and psychological (Girls Not Brides, 2014).122 The group observed that, due to the age of the child-bride, her first sexual encounter is forced and this experience continues throughout the marriage (Girls Not Brides, 2014).123 The connection between child marriage and domestic violence is well documented by the CEDAW Committee. Its General Recommendation 19 observed that child marriages lead to the deprivation of human rights and the perpetration of gender-violence against women. In fact, scholars have argued, that the servile marriage of children to adults amounts to slavery, and although this link has not been recognized by international law, currently pressure is growing on the international community to do so (Turner, 2013). IV. CONCLUSION The article shows that, despite the domestication of the CRC and ACRWC, Nigeria is home to the largest number of child-brides in Africa.124 This is an obvious failure on the part of Nigerian government to comply with its obligations under the CRC and ACRWC. This shortcoming is as a result of several factors: First, women and child rights issues are residual subject matters in the Constitution, the implication being that States in Nigeria must adopt the CRA before it applies in the States. Secondly, item 61 of the Second Schedule, Part 1 of the Constitution prevents the National Assembly from legislating with respect to customary law and Islamic law marriages. This implies that child marriage could be validly contracted under the two laws notwithstanding statutory prohibitions. Thirdly, registration of births is so irregular that it is very difficult to know the age of the bride at marriage to determine whether the marriage is a child marriage coupled with the fact that most marriages are not registered. Fourthly, inadequate implementation of the education rights of the child-brides entrenches poverty amongst them. To eliminate child marriage a number of measures are necessary. First, the Constitution needs to be amended, so that women and child rights issues will be transferred to the Concurrent Legislative List. In this way the CRA will automatically apply throughout the country and prevail over all inconsistent laws. A uniform minimum age for marriage will, therefore, become applicable. Item 61 needs to be reviewed to enable the National Assembly to legislate with respect to customary law and Islamic law marriages which will harmonize the three legal regimes namely, civil, customary, and Islamic laws. Section 29(4)(b) should be expunged from the Constitution. Secondly, immediate registration of births and marriages should be made mandatory. Thirdly, with the ubiquity of mobile phones now even in the rural areas of Nigeria (as in other developing countries), it is recommended that mHealth125 be employed in creating health awareness and in getting necessary information to the hard-to-reach vulnerable rural child-bride, to enlighten them on the need to take care of their health, attend anti-natal clinics, educate the girl-child and her parents about the dangers of child marriage. Finally, government needs to enforce policies that will encourage the child-bride to realize her education rights and become educated, self-sufficient and independent. REFERENCES Adedokun O. , Adeyemi O. , Dauda C. 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Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS World Vision ( 2008 ) Before She’s Ready: 15 Places Girls Marry by 15, available at www.worldvision.org/resources.nsf/main/early-marriage.pdf/$le/earlymarriage.pdf (last accessed on 19 July 2017). World Bank ( 2015 ) The Economic and Social Impacts of Child Marriage, available at http://live.worldbank.org/economic-social-impacts-child-marriage (last accessed on 9 July 2017). Footnotes 1 Human Rights Watch; Q & A: Child Marriage & Violations of Girl’s Rights available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/06/14/q_child_marriage_violations_girls_rights (last accessed on 8 June 2017). 2 UNICEF (UN Children… (US)) available at https://data.unicef.org/wp_content/uploads/2015 (last accessed on 25 May 2017). 3 Ibid. 4 See section 18 of the Act provides that a person below the age of 21 years is a minor. 5 In Nigeria, since customary and Islamic laws encourage child marriage, it simply means that a child married off at the age of 13 years will be presumed to have attained the age of 18 years. 6 See section 277 of Child Rights Act (CRA), Act 26 of 2003; section 116 Immigration Act 2015, section 12 Electoral Act, No 6 of 2010 and section 29(4)(a) of the constitution. 7 These signs appear before the age of 18 years. 8 These include UDHR, CEDAW, Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). 9 For example, Islamic Laws of Nigeria. Marriage Act CAP M6 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004. Matrimonial Causes Act CAP M7 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004. 10 Ibid, (n 8). 11 Ending Child Marriage: A Guide for Global Policing Action, The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IFPF) (2006) UK Portfolio Publishing Co., 6. Available at https://www.unfpa.org (last accessed on 6 June 2017). 12 Child Marriage and the Law, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) New York, 2008, 8. Available at https://www.unicef.org (last accessed on May 25, 2017). 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid. 15 The UDHR stipulates that free and full consent is an essential ingredient for a valid marriage. The event of marriage is supposed to be a momentous and most joyful moment for any bride, hence she gives her consent willingly to be united with the love of her life. When this is not the case, there are some disastrous consequences as was seen in these cases: Maimuna v Nigeria ECW/CC/Jud/14/14 and Wasila Tasi’u’s case, where the wives aged 13 and 14 years, respectively, were accused of killing their husbands. In the second case, the girl testified that she was forced to marry her late husband. The parents testified that she gave her consent, that she chose her late husband from the list of men seeking her hand in marriage. This shows that the consent was not willingly given and, therefore, was not free and full as required by Article 16(b) of UDHR. 16 CEDAW available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/convention_on_the_elimination_of…html (last accessed on 19 June 2017). 17 United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, CEDAW available at www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw (last accessed on 1 June 2017). 18 CEDAW : States Parties available at www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/states.html (last accessed on 1 June 2017). 19 UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), CEDAW General Recommendation No.21: Equality in Marriage in Marriage and Family Relations, 1994 available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/48abd52c0.html (last accessed on 14 October 2017). 20 For example, Jigawa State. 21 This can range from 10 to 14 years depending on the child. 22 Kwara, Plateau, and Cross River States. 23 Convention on the Rights of the Child available at https:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/convention_on_the_rights_of_the_child (last accessed on 23 May 2017). 24 United Nations Treaty Collection available at https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_n=w-11 (last accessed on 22 May 2017). 25 UNICEF Information Sheet available at https://www.unicef.org/wcaro/WCARO_Nigeria_factsheets_CRA (last accessed on 22 May 2017). 26 UNICEF Information Sheet: The CRA; available at https://www.org/wcaro/WCARO_Nigeria_factsheets_CRA (last accessed on 6 June 2017). 27 Cohen observed that the CRC is so comprehensive in its protection of the girl child; the authors observed that the final text of the convention is comprehensive and encompasses the full range of human rights protections. 28 That is, right to life, freedom from all forms of discrimination and right against inhuman and degrading treatment. 29 See Article 28. 30 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_Charter_on_the_Rights_and_welfare_of_the_child (last accessed on 3 June 2017). 31 Ratification Table/ African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child available at www.achpr.org/instruments/child/ratification/ (last accessed on 3 June 2017). 32 Member States of the Organization of African Unity, parties to the present Charter, shall recognize the rights, freedoms, and duties enshrined in this Charter and shall undertake the necessary steps, in accordance with their constitutional processes and with the provisions of the present Charter, to adopt such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the provisions of this Charter. 33 See Article 2 of the Charter 34 See Article 21(2) ibid. 35 The customary laws applicable in Nigeria include tribal customary law and Islamic law. That Islamic law is part of customary law especially in the northern part of the country is made explicit by section 2 of the Native Courts Law, 1958 (Cap 78 of the Laws of Northern Nigeria, 1963). 36 See section 3(1) of the Age of Marriage Law, 1956, Laws of Eastern Nigeria, 1963, Cap 6. The section provides that a marriage between two persons neither of whom is up to 16 years shall be void. 37 See section 49 Native Authority Law (Laws of Northern Nigeria, 1963, Cap 77); section 2 (1) (a) Native Authority (Declaration of Idoma Native Marriage and Custom) Order Native Authority Legal Notice (NALN) 63 of 1959; section 2 (a) N A (Declaration of Tiv) Order NALN 149 of 1955; section 2 (1) (a) N A (Declaration of Borgu) Order, NALN 52 of 1961; section 1 (a) N A (Declaration of Biu) Order, NALN 9 of 1964. 38 See section 7, Marriage, Divorce and Custody of Children Adoptive Bye-Law Order 1958. 39 See Adisatu Awero v Olajida Ishola (1962) Case no. B/229/62 (Unreported) where the court held that under customary law a marriage without the consent of the girl’s parents is invalid. Also in Dura Aonde v Yomekaa Agoii Suit No. GBB/32A/1981 (Unreported) it was held that under the Tiv customary law a marriage will not be valid unless the father or person acting in loco parentis gives his consent. 40 Maimuna v Nigeria (n 15) and Wasila Tasi’u’s case (n 15). 41 Cap M6 The Laws Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004 42 Cap M7 LFN 2004. 43 Cap C50 LFN 2004. 44 See section 18 of the Marriage Act. 45 See section 33(3) ibid. See also Agbo v Udo (1947) 18 NLR 152, where the court held that notwithstanding the absence of consent of the parents the marriage is valid within the provisions of section 33(3) of the Marriage Act. 46 See section 3(1)(e) Matrimonial Causes Act. 47 See section 21 of the CRA 2003. 48 See section 277 ibid, (section 22). 49 See section 22 ibid. 50 See section 23 ibid. 51 UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2015 available at https://www.unicef.org/publicationn/index_1728.html (last accessed on 17 May 2017). 52 Since the domestication of the CRC in 2003, 26 States namely Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Imo, Jigawa, Kwara, Lagos, Nassarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Niger, Kogi, Taraba, Enugu, and Kaduna, have adopted the CRA. The 10 States namely Adamawa, Bauchi, Bornu, Gombe, Kano, Kastina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara yet to adopt the CRA are all Northern States. However, Zamfara, Kastina, and Yobe are currently considering the adoption of the CRA. See Failings of the Child Rights Law; This Day, 10 March 2017, available at https://www.pressreader.com/nigeria/thisday/20170310/2820805716/36307 (last accessed on 23 May 2017). 53 See Pt. II 2nd Schedule of the Constitution. 54 In fact, the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria instituted an action against the Federal Government and National Assembly before the Federal High Court Abuja and sought the nullification of certain sections of the CRA including section 21 which provides that 18 years is the minimum age for marriage and any marriage where the parties are not 18 years is null and void. According to the Council the Koran and Hadiths support child marriage: See K Nwezeh; ‘Yerima –Sharia Council drags Federal Government, National Assembly to court, 4 June 2010 available at http://www.allafrica.com/stories/201006071572html (last accessed on 24 May 2017). 55 Kwara, Plateau, and Akwa Ibom States. 56 See section 274 of the Kwara State CRL 2007; section 273 of the Plateau State CRL 2005; and Akwa Ibom State CRL available at http://www.aksgonline.com.ws)33.alentus.com/child_rights_law.aspx (last accessed on 15 May 2017). 57 See section 15(1) of Jigawa State CRL. 58 See section 2(2) ibid. 59 Ibid. 60 A good example is the case of Senator Ahmed Yerima who married a 13-year old Egyptian girl in 2010, 7 years after domestication of the CRC. He is from Zamfara State which has not adopted the CRA. He contended that since his marriage to the girl is approved by the Koran and celebrated under Islamic law he has not contravened any law. See ‘Nigerian Senator defends teen marriage’ available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQJ.8Rbgiox4 (last accessed on 25 May 2017). 61 Ruling No. ECW/CCI/jud/14/14 available at https://www.crin.org/mode/40392 (last accessed on 25 May 2017). 62 See section 29 (4)(b) of the Constitution. 63 The decision of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Community Court might seem to contradict the constitution. But this is so, because the court is an international court and is bound by the international legal system. However, it does not have the machinery to enforce its judgment, and that is why to date Maimuna awaits her freedom. 64 Divisive case: Nigeria drops murder charges against child-bride who poisoned 35-year old husband, available at mgafrica.com/article/2015_05_20_nigeria_drops_murder_charges_against_child_bride (last accessed on 27 May 2017). 65 Section 29(4) (b) 1999 CFRN: ‘Any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age’ available at www.vanguardngr.com/13/8/s.294b_1999_cfrn (last accessed on 27 May 2017). 66 In the first voting, 85 Senators supported the recommendation but in the second voting, only 60 Senators voted for the removal of the paragraph. 67 See M Uwais; Senator Yerima and Constitutional Review available at www.saharareport.com/2013/…/senator_yerima_and_constitutional_review (last accessed on 29 May 2017). 68 Ibid. 69 This is why Senator Yerima was not prosecuted when he married the 13-year old Egyptian girl in Nigeria in 2010, despite the domestication of CRC at the time, because he married her under Islamic law. 70 These include the rights to life, dignity of the human person, against discrimination, etc. 71 [2002] FWLR (Pt. 129) p. 1453. 72 Ibid, at p.1459. 73 See section 33 of the Constitution; Article 6 CRC; Articles 5(1) and 21(1)(a) ACRWC and sections 3 and 4 CRA. 74 Humanium; Right to life: Understanding children’s right to life available at www.humanium.org/en/fundamentalrights/life (last accessed on 8 June 2017). 75 Article 6(2) CRC; section 4 CRA. 76 Article 21(1)(a) ACRWC. 77 Article 6(2) CRC; Article 21(1)(a) ACRWC; section 4 of CRA. 78 section 34 of the constitution. 79 sections 3 and 11 CRA. 80 Article 37(a) CRC. 81 Articles 16(1) and 21(1)(a) ACRWC. 82 [1991] NWLR (Pt. 200) 708 at 764 – 78. 83 Ibid, at p. 780. 84 A pathetic case occurred in Bauchi State, where a 9-year old girl, Hauwa Abubakar, was married to a 40-year old cattle dealer, to whom the father was indebted. She ran away from the husband’s house three times and each time she was forcefully brought back by her parents. On the third occasion, the husband pinned her down and chopped off her legs with a poisoned cutlass which eventually led to her death. See United Nations (2001) Report on Children’s and Women’s Rights in Nigeria: A wake up call (SAA 2001) available at http://www.worldcat.org/title/children_and_women_rights_in_Nigeria_wake_up_call (last accessed on 10 June 2017). 85 Child marriage violates rights available at news.bbc.co.uk/1/ni/1206979.stm (last accessed on 8 June 2017) 86 Article 21(1) ACRWC. 87 Article 21(1)(a) ibid. 88 section 42 of the constitution. 89 section 10 CRA. 90 Article 2 CRC. 91 Articles 3 and 21(1)(b) ACRWC. 92 Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse available at https://www.unicef.org/protection/57929_58008.html (last accessed on 15 June 2017). 93 [2008] All FWLR (Pt. 433) 1293. 94 Ibid, at p.1318. 95 Gender Equality in Nigeria/Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) available at www.genderindex.org/country/nigeria (last accessed on 15 June 2017). 96 World Health Organization (WHO), ‘Women’s health’, Fact Sheet No. 334 (updated September 2013) available from www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs334/en/ (last accessed 14 August 2017). 97 There may be other variants involving other pelvic organs such as the uterus, cervix, ureters, and urethra, etc. 98 Only one in 13 health facilities (17.7 per cent) provide comprehensive emergency obstetric care services in Nigeria ((United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 2008, as provided in the National Strategic Framework for the Elimination of Obstetrics Fistula in Nigeria 2011–2015) available at https://www.medbox.org/ng-policies-others/national-strategic-framework-for-the-elimination-of-obstetrics-fistula-in-nigeria-2011-2015/preview?= (last accessed on 16 June 2017) 2008) 99 69th UNGA-SG Report ‘Supporting efforts to end obstetric fistula’, August 2014, p. 2. 100 Ibid. 101 Ten facts on obstetric fistula available at www.who.int/features/factfiles/obstetric_fistula/en/ (last accessed on 14 August 2017). 102 This is known as the Maputo Plan of Action for the operationalization of the Continental Policy Framework on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights to address reproductive health challenges in Africa. 103 For instance, the regional fistula meeting organized by UNFPA in Senegal in 2013 bringing together representatives of nine ministries of health, 14 fistula treatment centres, civil society organizations, and professional associations from West and Central Africa. 104 Resolution 62/138, available at: http://www.un.org/en/ga/62/resolutions.shtml (last accessed on 15 September 2017). 105 Resolution 65/188 adopted on 21 December 2010 and available at: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N10/523/82/PDF/N1052382.pdf?OpenElement; Resolution 67/147 adopted 20 December 2012 available at: http://www.un.org/en/ga/67/resolutions.shtml (last accessed on 15 September 2017). 106 See 69th UNGA-SG Report (n 99). p.12. Also, the Engender Health led Fistula Care research project has contributed much to the awareness and control of fistula in Nigeria. 107 Executive summary: National Strategic Framework for the Elimination of Obstetrics Fistula in Nigeria 2011–2015. 108 69th UNGA-SG Report (n 99). See (n 104)(n 105)p. 2. 109 North eastern Nigeria has six (6) states, namely-Taraba, Adamawa, Bauchi, Bornu, Gombe, and Yobe States. North eastern geo-political zone of Nigeria is reputed to be the poorest, the most educationally backward and has the highest rate of child marriage in Nigeria. 110 69th UNGA-SG Report (n 99). See (n 104)(n 105) p.3 111 State of World Population 2013: Motherhood in Childhood – Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.13.III.H.1). 112 See (n 108). 113 State of World Population 2013: Motherhood in Childhood (n 111) available at http://www.ungei.org/infobycountry/nigeria.html (last accessed on 1 August 2017). 114 Ibid. 115 Ibid 116 See (n 113). 117 The key institutions in this regard on the international platform being United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), UNGEI, the World Bank, the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Committee on the Rights of the Child, the AU, the International Centre for Research on Women; and on the domestic level, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Centre for Learning and Educational Development Advocacy Africa (CLEDA-Africa) etc. 118 See section 18 of the constitution. 119 See Article 15 of CRA. 120 See Article 28(1) of CRC and Article 11 of ACRWC. 121 World Vision (2008) ‘Before she’s ready: 15 places girls marry by 15’, pp. 18–20; Gordon Brown, ‘Out of wedlock, into school: combating child marriage through education’ 16–19. 122 Where the relatives do not take part in the violence meted out on the child, they sometimes reinforce it by teaching the child that is ‘normal’ and that it is her duty to endure it. 123 Girls Not Brides available at http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/why-is-child-marriage-a-form-of-violence-against-women-and-girls (last accessed on 3 August 2017). 124 UNICEF (n 2) (last accessed on 24 May 2017). 125 mHealth is the use of mobile technology for health delivery, sharing of health information, or even information about disease outbreaks to people in hard-to-reach areas and remote villages. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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