Child marriage: Niger State speaker plans to marry off 100 orphaned girls en masse

child marriage

The Speaker at the Niger State House of Assembly, Abdulmalik Sarkindaji, announced his plans to marry off 100 female orphans on May 11, 2024. However, due to the immense backlash from the public, the speaker, in his defence, stated that the girls are of marriable age and have their own suitors.

“It was the parents of the girls who approached me and solicited my support, and I gladly accepted to assist them.”

According to UNICEF, child marriage refers to any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child. 30.3% of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday, and 12.3% are married before the age of 15. Although the federal Child Rights Act (CRA, 2003) prohibits marriage below the age of 18, the Nigerian constitution contains provisions which appear to conflict with this position. Some Islamic legal systems have also failed to adopt the federal law of 18 as the age of majority for marriage.

Sarkindaji stated that this initiative is an effort to stop the girls from “falling into fornication” after the loss of their parents and loved ones during the recent bandit attacks on the Mariga LGA community. According to a report by Punch Newspaper, the speaker stated that 270 girls approached him to sponsor their weddings due to recently being orphaned and not having enough funds to foot the wedding bills.

However, the circumstances surrounding the marriage appeared to be dubious, seeing as very young girls were being married off. This initiative by the speaker and his announcement on Saturday resulted in severe backlash from netizens and the minister of women’s affairs, Uju Kennedy Ohaneye, who had obtained an injunction to restrain the Speaker from sponsoring the mass weddings.

“The actions proposed by the Speaker are utterly unacceptable to the Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the government at large. We are duty-bound to uphold the Child’s Rights Act and ensure the welfare and future prospects of these girls,” said the minister, Uju Kennedy-Ohaneye.

Here’s what a few people had to say

 

child marriage

 

child marriage

Following the public outrage and immense backlash from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the speaker decided to step back from the mass wedding. He stated that the opposition from the public and  Uju Kennedy-Ohaneye had made him withdraw his efforts toward securing the marriages of the 100 girls. The speaker also stated that this was a gesture to help members of his community after the attack, as they could not afford to have a wedding.

“I am highly disappointed in the Minister of Women Affairs. It is unfortunate that she allowed herself and her office to be misled by social media reports without finding out from me the true situation on the ground concerning this marriage,” said the Speaker.

Insecurity and its effect on women

The controversy surrounding the speaker’s initiative highlights a broader issue of insecurity in Nigeria, which poses a grave threat to the safety and well-being of women and girls. In conflict-affected regions, such as Mariga LGA, where the recent bandit attacks occurred, protection mechanisms that should safeguard the rights of women and girls weaken. This weakening of protection mechanisms leaves them vulnerable to appalling situations such as child marriage and sexual abuse, as the breakdown of law and order creates an environment where harmful practices can flourish.

In areas plagued by insecurity, families facing economic hardships may see marrying off their daughters at a young age as a means of survival or protection. According to a report by Save the Children, girls affected by conflict are 20% more likely to be married than those living in peaceful areas in Nigeria, while nearly 90 million girls globally are living in a conflict zone, with devastating impacts on their health, well-being and future opportunities.

Tragically, child marriage robs girls of their childhood, education, and autonomy, perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality.

Moreover, the breakdown of law and order in conflict-affected areas creates an environment ripe for sexual exploitation and abuse. Women and girls become easy targets for perpetrators who exploit their vulnerability for their own gain. This exploitation not only inflicts immediate harm but also leaves lasting scars on survivors, affecting their physical and mental well-being.

Tackling insecurity in Nigeria helps to restore peace and stability, but it is also essential for protecting the rights and dignity of women and girls. To combat insecurity effectively, we must focus on safeguarding vulnerable groups. This means taking specific actions to prevent child marriage rather than outrightly supporting it, assisting survivors of sexual violence, and ensuring that everyone has access to justice, adequate resources and tolerable living conditions.

Ultimately, a secure and stable Nigeria is one where women and girls are empowered to thrive free from the threat of violence and exploitation. It is imperative that government authorities, civil society organisations, and the international community work together to address the root causes of insecurity and create a safer and more equitable future for all.

Authors

  • Grace Hans-Bello

    In love with all things artsy and beautiful. That, of course, includes the women I write about.

  • ChiAmaka Dike

    Chiamaka is the Features Editor at Marie Claire Nigeria. She is a woman who is passionate about God, women, and top-notch storytelling in all formats. Send all feature pitches her way - chiamaka@marieclaire.ng

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