Maryam Uwais is a Muslim and a voice that cries out against child brides as young as 15 years being forced to marry men of varying ages. In most Islamic countries were Sharia Law is carried out, the minimum age for brides is eighteen years of age. Below is Maryam’s own article (in abbreviaated form, as some of it relates to Nigerian political areas).
Her article was written in Vanguard, Newspaper, July,2013
Today the North of Nigeria continues to throw up Nigeria’s poorest indices on matters relating to healthcare, nutrition, education, empowerment and productivity. Consequently, unemployment, insecurity, violence and poverty remain rife in that region. Statistics have it that 2/3 of the 102 million poor people in Nigeria live in the North. Extreme poverty in the North translates into extreme vulnerability to the effects of climate change, food security and so much more. Incidentally, over half of the women in the North are married off by the age of 16 and commence childbirth within the first year of marriage. Also, of the 16 million births by girls below the age of 18, 9 out of 10 of them are married.
– Multiple health risks arising from child marriage include the sexual exploitation (including forced sexual relations) that she is subjected to, as well as limited access to reproductive health services, despite the real and present danger of contracting diseases such as HIV/AIDS, STIs (sexually transmitted diseases) and the debilitating ailment of VVF/RVF (VVF-a tear in the flesh between the vagina and the urinary passage, usually due to prolonged labour, resulting in uncontrolled urine or feces in the case of recto-vaginal fistulae-RVF), including the abandonment that comes with such ailments. Nigeria, with 2% of the world’s population, has 10% of VVF patients. Three-quarters of those with VVF/RVF are young girls who are not yet physically mature but have suffered trauma in their first pregnancy.
– Statistics show that stillbirths and deaths are 50% more likely in babies born to mothers younger than 18, as against babies born to mothers above that age. Each day, 144 women die in childbirth in Nigeria, with the North East alone having 5 times the global rate of maternal mortality. The lack of information and access to support ultimately results in psycho-social and emotional consequences, domestic violence, abandoned (street) children, with the attendant deprivations of their rights and freedoms, whose wellbeing is severely compromised. The prevalence of the abuse of the right to the exercise of divorce by Muslim men has only compounded the situation, leading to so many negative social deviations such as substance abuse (that has become so rampant), commercial sex work and the complete loss of values in the entire family set up.
Many of these adolescents are married off to men much older than they, and because of the associated power differentials, this singular factor impedes communication between them, with the girl having no negotiation skills in crucial decision-making that may affect her life. Having lost out on these critical life opportunities, these married adolescents can never aspire to living as meaningful and productive members of society. Not being able to participate actively in the community translates to their losing out completely on benefitting from economic activity and earning a decentincome. Many of these girls remain excluded from community life, having been separated from peers and family members by marriage. Depression sets in. A life of diminished opportunities. The community loses out completely; the economy cannot improve where half its population is stuck in this rut.
Child marriage, from available statistics, ultimately hampers the efforts of these young adolescents from acquiring an education, as sooner than later, they find it difficult to combine the onerous responsibilities of being a wife and mother, with schooling. They drop out, if they have not been removed for the purpose of marriage, in the first place. Consequently, 70.8% of young women aged 20-29 in the North West zone are unable to read or write. Due to the fact that these girls are deprived so early of an education (including the access to information and knowledge) they remain bereft of the purchasing power necessary for an adequate diet, healthcare,skills, or even recourse to support in emergencies, all of which would enable them rise above the circumstances of abject poverty. It is paradoxical that Muslims like Senator Yerima would rather their wives and daughters be treated by female medical personnel if they fall ill, and yet they are, by continuously advocating for child marriage, deliberately closing the avenues for girls to aspire to such professions.
Deprivations of formal and non-formal education translate, at such an early age, into restrictions on mobility, domestic burdens, the denial of sundry freedoms in respect of survival, development and participation, as well as the loss of adolescent years. Indeed, children of young, uneducated mothers are also less likely to attain high levels of education, perpetuating cycles of low literacy and limited livelihood opportunities. Child marriage, therefore, ultimately deprives societies of the intellectual and financial/livelihood contributions of girls, and of their offspring. It is no wonder then that the North continues to portray such poor ratings in almost all aspects of human endeavour.