World, Africa

Nigeria has 'world's highest number of child marriages'

49 percent of females are married off before they turn 18 in the country, according to United Nations Children's Fund

30.11.2016
Nigeria has 'world's highest number of child marriages' File photo

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria

Nigeria has the highest number of underage girls forced into early marriage with at least 49 percent of females married off before they turn 18, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

UNICEF said in a statement late Tuesday such marriages posed grave health risks to the girls, especially during pregnancy and childbirth.

The statement comes as Nigeria, joined by several donor agencies, launched a nationwide campaign to end child marriages as part of the global body’s Sustainable Development Goals that the country has committed to achieve by 2030. One of the targets calls for the elimination of all forms of harmful practices, including child marriages.

“The campaign...is a call to action. It is an attempt to save the lives of adolescent girls pressed into marriage too early, many of whom become pregnant and are at a higher risk of complications in pregnancy or childbirth,” Mohamed Fall, UNICEF’s representative in Nigeria, said in the statement.

“These complications are a leading cause of death among adolescents girls in countries like Nigeria; a cause of death that is unnecessary and unacceptable,” Fall added.

Women Affairs Minister Aishah al-Hassan said the country must do everything to end the practice such as liaising with local and religious leaders to prevail on their people to stop all practices that limit girls from achieving their potentials.

“Girl marriage threatens girls’ lives and health,” al-Hassan said, adding the campaign was an attempt “to provide a better future to our girls.”

She said the campaign advocates for policies and actions that protect human rights of girls.

According to UNICEF, early marriage and childbirth can be extremely harmful for girls, especially those under 18 are more likely to suffer from fistula, to die in childbirth and to give birth to stillborn babies. Children born to child mothers are more likely to suffer from stunting and wasting, the agency added in the statement.

“Child marriage varies with a girl’s education and the economic status of her family. Adolescent girls with no education tend to marry at an average of about 15 years, while age of marriage increase to 18 for girls with primary education.

“Average age of marriage for women with secondary education rises to about 21, when women are physically and emotionally better equipped for marriage and childbirth. Likewise, girls from the poorest households on average marry at age of 15, while girls from the wealthiest households marry at an average age of 23,” it added.

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