This blog is in commemoration of the recent celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child.
** Image used for illustrative purposes only and not meant to be a depiction of nor representative of anyone mentioned or described in this blog **
I would like to share this experience. As a Global Ambassador to The Well Project, one of the activities I love doing is educating young adolescent people on HIV/AIDS and sexual reproductive health education at different community-levels, particularly schools. This has helped me to see that there are lots of gaps in HIV information for this groups of persons. In one of the schools I visited, a child shared an experience about one of her friend's cousins in the far northern part of Nigeria. It is so sad and frustrating to see or hear some of these things, but they are so true.
In Nigeria, 45% of girls are married off before their eighteen birthdays while 17% are married off before they turn fifteen. The prevalence of girl-child marriage varies widely from one region to another in Nigeria, with figures as high as 76% in the Northwest region and as low as 10% in the Southeast. Poverty, illiteracy and low educational attainment by guardians and parents, and also strong social and religious traditions are some of the drivers of early child marriage in Nigeria. The Nigerian Constitution does not establish a minimum age of marriage.
The Child Rights Act, which was passed in 2003, sets the age of marriage at eighteen years old. But only 23 out of the 36 states in Nigeria have taken a bold step to implementing the minimum age of marriage. This story is about a young fifteen-year-old girl from one of the northern states in Nigeria.
A fifteen-year-old girl was heart-broken when she found out her parents had been planning her marriage to a thirty-six-year-old neighbour. Mr. Hassan* had asked for her hand in marriage! In spite of her disapproval towards the marriage, her parents forcibly got her engaged to Mr. Hassan. Following the engagement, this considerably wealthy man, when compared with Fatimah's* parents, would normally come to Fatimah's house to greet his would-be in-laws, usually bearing a lot of presents for his soon to be wife. As days turned into weeks, the time for the marriage was fast approaching and Fatimah was becoming more and more nervous and depressed about her now new destiny which came totally unexpected for a 15-year-old Secondary School girl. The marriage took place and after the marriage, Fatimah had to bid good bye to her parents' house and move to Hassan's house.
Some few weeks after, her husband was transferred to one of the Southwest States in Nigeria, so she had to move with him to an unknown and unfamiliar city where she had no communication with her family and friends. She became a victim of domestic violence and abuse by Hassan. One day he beat her and cut her with a pocket knife just because she attended a cousin's child naming ceremony which he permitted her to attend. When she came back, he was so drunk that he almost killed her and promised to do that the next time she stepped out of the house. He also warned the cousin never to step foot in their house again. She was a prisoner and her husband was her jailer.
A few months after their marriage, Fatimah started feeling weak and sick. She told Hassan, but he ignored her. Later he decided to take her to hospital where it was confirmed that she was almost three months pregnant. The doctor advised him to take very good care of her and also that she needed serious rest and a proper diet. After they returned home, Hassan's attitude towards Fatimah suddenly changed in a positive way. He started treating her properly and telling her that he was so grateful to her because he knows that she will give birth to a baby boy that will become his heir. At about eight months into the pregnancy she was rushed to the hospital only to be told that she had developed something called Umbilical Hernia which was as a result of early pregnancy and she had to undergo a surgery after the delivery of her child to avoid further complications. She was admitted in the hospital for further observation, and after five hours of labour, she gave birth to a premature baby girl.
When Hassan was told that she gave birth to a baby girl he was so mad, out of disgust and disappointment he left the hospital without seeing his child or Fatimah. After Fatimah was discharged from the hospital she went home, and to her shock he threw her out of the house. He said, "This thing you are holding is not my child, what will I do with a baby girl?? A girl cannot do anything for me." Poor Fatimah who had no one went to her cousin's house where she received proper medical attention.
This and many more are the stories of a girl child in Nigeria, lots of underage girls face rape and abuse in this region and it is high time we hold our leaders responsible. People will say "May God help us" when they see or hear such stories, but I say God has helped us and we need and must help ourselves in Nigeria. It is not just happening in the North but it cuts across the nation.
I was at an orphanage and met infants that were given up by underage mothers from pre-teen to teenagers, such among these babies included two twin beautiful baby girls. This breaks my heart because I want to help as many girls as possible but most times one gets frustrated by our systems and policies. With all of this, how are we stopping HIV/AIDS in Nigeria and claim to be "Turning the Tides"!
*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.