Abuja - Titi Abubakar, the Founder, Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF), said on Monday in Abuja that the northern Nigeria had the highest rate of early marriage in the country.
Abubakar, who was represented by Hajia Veronica Umoru, a Director at WOTCLEF, made this known in a policy dialogue on Early Marriage with the theme: “Curbing Early Marriage an Protecting Children's Right in Nigeria”.
She said that early marriage had been widely spread in the northern part of the country “because it is believed that it could reduce promiscuity.”
She said that a report had indicated that nationwide, 20 per cent of girls were married at age 15 and 40 per cent married at age 18 to 22.
“In the Northwest region, 48 per cent of girls were married at age 15, and 78 per cent married at age 18 to 23," she said.
Abubakar, who is the wife of the former vice president, said that in Nigeria, advocates justified early marriage as necessary for preserving girls' virginity, adding that “early marriage exposes virgin girls to grave health risk.”
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“Married adolescents in the northern states of Nigeria face greater reproductive health risks than their unmarried counterpart due to low education, low status, and large spousal gaps.
“They have little or no inter-spousal communication, limited access to contraceptives and the risk of HIV infections from other husbands who have multiple sexual partners.”
She said that girls were future wives and mothers with indispensable roles to play in moulding and shaping the future of the nation.
Abubakar said that it was not enough that a law had been put in place to fight the practice, but the enforcement of the law had to be taken seriously.
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She said that the international community would not achieve its commitment to reduce global poverty unless it tackled child marriage.
In his speech, Auwal Musa, the Executive Secretary, Civil Society Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) said that National and International communities had increasingly recognised child marriage as a serious problem and violation of girl's right.
Quoting a survey conducted by the Population Council, an NGO on HIV and AIDS and early marriage in Nigeria, he said that girls who married at 15 years were more in the North than the South.
Musa said that the survey also showed that the North West alone has 35.8 per cent, North East has 24.9 per cent, North Central has 7.7 per cent.
While South West has 0.7 per cent and South-South has 2.4 per cent and South-East has 0.4 per cent.
In a goodwill message, Esther Otukoya, the Director, ECOWAS Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the theme was in consonance with the Nigerian government's policy on protection of the child right.
In a keynote address, Prof. Bem Angwe, the Executive Secretary of Human Rights Commission said that Nigeria domesticated the child rights act in 2003.
Angwe, who was represented by Aver Gavar, the Deputy Director, Focal Areas Unit said that child marriage was being perpetuated under a warped consideration of economic benefit, religious and cultural misapplication.