Culture Clash Over Child Marriage in Nigeria



After a clash of cultures over legalization of same sex marriage in Nigeria, another confrontation is brewing about campaigns for an end to child marriage by  UNICEF and other international agencies. There is a commitment to reduce child marriages by 40 percent by 2020 from government at all tiers with support from the US Government and other international agencies. But there has also been mounting opposition mainly from Islamic groups and local cultural organizations highlighting conflicts with faith-based principles and traditions.

The Western promoters of the campaign cite social and health implications such as maternal morbidity, low girl-child education levels and orphaning of infants to justify curbing the practice. They peg minimum age for marriage of women at 18 years from the constitutional provision for adulthood and voting rights. But the Islamic and cultural doctrines link marriage age to the attainment of biological and sexual maturity, especially commencement of menses.

The Western adoption of 18 plays down the moral and spiritual concerns about child prostitution, unwanted pregnancies, promiscuity and other moral menaces currently plaguing Nigeria and the world at large.

The emerging reality of early maturity among today’s children has made parents apprehensive about exposing such children now as young as 12 and 13 in a society steeped in immorality and sexual abuses without the marriage safety net. Interestingly, several Western enterprises are targeting secondary school children in their sanitary pad advertisement campaigns.

The health and gender equality related consequences of child marriage notwithstanding, even the Federal Government has acknowledged the inherent limitations posed by strong religious and cultural beliefs by opting for a persuasive approach to the campaign.