Developing nations and some dangerous cultural practices
Kingsley Mba, May 09, 2017
Coming from one the countries still grappling with some fundamental challenges of nationhood, placed me at a vantage position to be exposed to certain dangerous cultural practices and highly skewed beliefs etched in primordial sentiments. These have not only derailed our quest for rapid socioeconomic development to be at par with other civilized nations but also portray us in a bad light among the comity of nations.
My focus today is on child bride or underage marriage, which has become so pervasive especially in the northern part of the country, where girls even at the age of 10 are said to be married off to men old enough to be their father and in some cases, their grandfather.
Child bride for reasons that have defied logic and common sense, crept into our cultural milieu and ever since has continued to gain popularity among its adherents. This bizarre practice has no place in modern society. Oftentimes one is persuaded to ask questions as to what led and has sustained this unacceptable trend and you are always confronted with lame answers like the practice being in line with some religious and cultural beliefs and this beg the question, " should religion and culture be antithetical to civilization and modernity"?
Looking at the often devastating impacts on the victims of child marriage both physical and emotional, it has becomes so obvious that the promoters of this strange phenomenon are only driven my inordinate fantancies and therefore should stop citing a religious and cultural reason for their condemnable act. These girls suffer traumas of terrifying proportion.
It is estimated that about 15 million girls in Nigeria are married before the age of 18 and often against their wish. This is a clear violation of their right to health, education, personal liberty, safety, and wellbeing.
In addition, these girls are at greater risk of experiencing life-threatening complications during pregnancy and delivery, also contracting Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), HIV/AIDS and suffer domestic violence. During pregnancy, there is a risk for anemia and postpartum depression and the baby is more likely to be born prematurely and have a low birth weight.
Further checks also revealed, that certain factors fuel this social malaise, such as poverty, to promote existing family/royal ties, and the misconception that girl child education is less important to their male counterpart. But these assumptions are not only baseless and unfounded but preposterous.
Child marriage is a human right abuse which should be tackled headlong. Our penchant for living in self-denial and deceit has led us to often pass off the devastating effects of this unwholesome phenomenon. Our collective culpability cannot be excused by mere allusion to religious and cultural colouration.
Imagine at a time the world is making concerted efforts to ensure optimal school enrollment level for the girl child. Save The Children, a leading NGO which focus on increasing nutrition for children, Child Education among other things and UNICEF are leading the pack in the campaign to reduce the number of Out of School children. UNICEF in a recent report disclosed that about 60% of Out of School Children are females. This disturbing trend should engage the attention of all.
The role of mothers in the family which is the cradle of life for children cannot be overemphasized. Children are known to spend more time with their mothers especially during infancy and early formative age and this is a critical period in the life of every child. This is when he or she is expected to imbibe certain characters, norms and values that will mould and guide him or her through the journey of life. Leaving the child in the hand of poorly educated and emotionally unstable mother is a recipe for disaster given the fact that family being a foundation of life can either make a child a useful member of the society or a social misfit. Instances of this can also be seen in children from a broken or dysfunctional homes. Chances are that the child's early exposures are largely determined the quality and impacts of their interactions at home.
In nation building, women also play significant roles. There is no gainsaying the fact that the world would have suffered a devastating blow if the likes of Angela Merkel of German, Theresa May of Great Britain, Ellen Sirleaf of Liberia among others have their education and aspirations thwarted as a result of early marriage.
Recently there appear to be some audacious moves to correct this misnomer though still being rebuffed in some quarters. Nigeria and other nations still groping under the yoke of child marriage should rise and make bold policy statements prohibiting this act. There is already an existing Child Right Act and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006. Besides the full implementation of these Acts, there is also the need for Government at all levels to collaborate the laudable efforts of some CSOs, notable among them are Save The Children and UNICEF to put an end to this ugly phenomenon. Girl child deserves the right to better education, Health, Choices and opportunities to exploit her God-given talents and potential.
We say No to child marriage. " pay the girl child's school fees, not her bride price".
Kingsley Mba, a journalist, and social commentator writes from Abuja Nigeria.