Developmental Implications of Early Marriage in Nigeria

Developmental Implications of Early Marriage in Nigeria: A Study of Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area


This research work explored the issue of early marriage in Nigeria. It shed light specifically on the reasons behind its perpetuation, its harmful consequences show how it constitutes a barrier to education and enjoyment of human rights by girls and how it further threatens the development of the country. The findings from respondents and extensive reading of materials related to early marriage suggest that early marriage is due to various factors including among others, the search for economic survival, protection of young girls, peer group and family pressure, controlling female behaviour and sexuality, wars and civil conflicts, socio-cultural and religious values. It is a violation of girls’ human rights as it deprives them of freedom, the opportunity for personal development, and other rights. It is also a developmental challenge for population pressure, health care costs and lost opportunities for human development. It is a barrier to girls’ education as young girls drop out of school to get married which impacts negatively on the community as a whole and the well-being of future generations. This practice stands in direct conflict with the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); such as the promotion of basic education, the fight against poverty, the prevention of HIV/AIDS and the reduction of maternal mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa and Nigeria in particular. To deal with the problem, several strategies have been suggested mainly for providing economic opportunities to young girls, promoting education of girls and using mass media to increase the awareness of the whole community about the consequences of early marriage on girls themselves, their family and on the community as a whole.



Background to the Study

Birth, marriage and death are the standard trios of key events in most people’s lives. But only one ‘marriage’ is a matter of choice. The right to exercise that choice was recognized as a principle of law even in Roman times and has long been established in international human rights instruments. Yet many girls, and a smaller number of boys, enter into marriage without any chance of exercising their right to choose. Some are forced into marriage at a very early age. Others are simply too young to make an informed decision about their marriage partner or about the implications of marriage itself. They may have given what passes for ‘consent’ in the eyes of custom or the law, but in reality, consent to their binding union has been made by others on their behalf.

The assumption is that once a girl is married, she has become a woman – even if she is only 12. Equally, where a boy is made to marry, he is now a man and must put away childish things. While the age of marriage is generally on the rise, early marriage – marriage of children and adolescents below the age of 18 is still widely practised. While early marriage takes many different forms and has various causes, one issue is paramount. Whether it happens to a girl or a boy, early marriage is a violation of human rights. The right to free and full consent to a marriage is recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and in many subsequent human rights instruments – consent that cannot be ‘free and full’ when at least one partner is very immature. For both girls and boys, early marriage has profound physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional impacts, cutting off educational opportunities and chances of personal growth.

For girls, in addition, it will almost certainly lead to premature pregnancy and childbearing and is likely to lead to a lifetime of domestic and sexual subservience over which they have no control (Eboh, 1996).

Early marriage before the age of 18 is a violation of several international human rights charters and conventions such as the 1989 Convention on The Rights of the Child (CRC), 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEFADW), the 1989 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Women. However, for many young girls in developing countries, marriage is perceived as a means of securing their future and protecting them. Girls are forced into marriage by their families while they are still children in the hope that marriage will benefit them both financially and socially. On the contrary, early marriage violates the rights of children with often more negative consequences on the girls than the boys. This compromises their overall development, leaving them socially isolated with little or no education, skills and opportunities for employment and self-realization. These conditions ultimately make married girls more vulnerable to poverty. Young married girls are indeed a unique group, coming under great pressure on several fronts. They are required to do a disproportionate amount of domestic chores, which includes new roles and responsibilities as wives and mothers. The young bride’s status in the family is frequently dependent on her demonstrating her fertility-often within the first year of her marriage at a time when she is not yet physiologically, psychologically and emotionally prepared. Additionally, girls are made to be responsible for the care and welfare of future generations while still children themselves. Young mothers with no decision making powers, restricted mobility and no economic resources are likely to transmit this vulnerability to their off-springs. Therefore, early marriage directly compounds the ‘feminization of poverty and intergenerational poverty (Saxena, Shobha, 1999). Several studies confirm wide age gaps between younger married girls and their spouses. This age gap clearly creates an unequal power relationship between the younger brides and her older and more experienced husband, resulting in the husband having total control over sexual relations and decision-making. Since younger brides are socially conditioned not to question the authority of their husbands, they are often unable to use contraception or to plan their families. The combined effect of these factors may also make younger brides more likely to tolerate partner violence.

While there is widespread agreement that early marriage, early pregnancy and motherhood adversely affect the general development and education of girls and they are the links with poverty and wide consequences on families and communities have not been adequately explored. This is partly due to the ‘invisibility’ of younger married girls in most communities, and the fact that marriage confers adult status to girls and boys (Bruce, 2002).

Yet, many societies, primarily in Africa and South Asia, continue to support the idea that girls should marry at or soon after puberty. Their spouses are likely to be a few years older than they are but maybe more than twice their age. Parents and heads of families make marital choices for daughters and sons with little regard for the personal implications. Rather, they look upon marriage as a family-building strategy, an economic arrangement or a way to protect girls from unwelcome sexual advances.

Meanwhile, tradition and culture endorse the concept of early marriage, the 1999 Nigerian constitution is silent on the issue, although it could be implied from the provisions of section 29 that parties to a marriage must be of full age. Under subsection 29(4)(a), ‘any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age. On the other hand, subsection (4)(a) stated that ‘full age’ means the age of eighteen years and above.

Thus, despite that section of the Nigerian constitution, early marriage still poses a problem in most parts of Nigeria, as in many other countries in Africa and beyond. It is practised and justified in the name of tradition, culture and religion. That was why some people like the former governor of Zamfara state, Alh. Ahmed Sani Yerima Bakura and Mmerole Ogha the husband of Mgbeoji got married to a 13 and 9-year-old girl respectively. Especially vulnerable are young girls in rural areas, poor, and deprived communities. This situation reflects the relatively strong adherence to tradition, and the relative lack of opportunities affecting women in rural areas. In Nigeria in general, and among Northerners (Hausas) in particular, early marriage dates back to the formation of the society itself. In that part of the country, it is not uncommon for girls below the age of 12 to get married, and it is going beyond the expectation unlike in other parts of the country. The National Baseline Survey of Positive and Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting Women and Girls in Nigeria 1999 revealed that the aggregate mean age at marriage for female children is 16.7 years. In the northeast, the age is 15.2 years and in the northwest, 14.2 years. This is an indicator of the prevalence of early marriage in Nigeria (Shehu, 2002).

Statement of the Problem

Despite national laws and international agreements forbidding early marriage, this phenomenon is still widespread in many developing countries with a high prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa, more particularly in Nigeria. This paper intends to analyze that issue by emphasizing this region of Africa (Nigeria) using Uzo-Uwani as a paradigm. According to UNICEF (2001), 40 per cent and 49 per cent of girls under 19 in central and West Africa respectively are married compared to 27 per cent in east Africa and 20 per cent in northern and southern Africa.

Throughout the world, marriage is regarded as a moment of celebration and a milestone in adult life. Sadly, the practice of early marriage gives no such cause for celebration. All too often, the imposition of a marriage partner upon a child means that a girl’s or boy’s childhood is cut short and their fundamental rights are compromised (UNICEF, 2001 and Lefevre, Quiroga and Murphy 2004). Young girls are robbed of their youth and required to take on roles for which they are not psychologically or physically prepared. Many have no choice about the timing of marriage or their partner. Some are coerced into marriage, while others are too young to make an informed decision. Premature marriage deprives them of the opportunity for personal development as well as their rights to full reproductive health and wellbeing, education, and participation in civic life.

The literature identifies many interrelated factors almost similar worldwide with small variations between societies that interact to place a girl child at risk of early marriage. Those factors include among others, search for economic survival, protection of young girls, peer group and family pressure, controlling female behaviour and sexuality, wars and civil conflicts, maximization of fertility where infant mortality is very high (the working group 2000; UNICEF 2001; Mathur et al. 2003).

Early marriage contributes to a series of negative consequences both for young girls and the society in which they live. It is a violation of human rights in general and of girl’s rights in particular. For both girls and boys, early marriage has profound physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional impacts; cutting off educational and employment opportunities and chances of personal growth. In this research work, more emphasis is given to girls as this is an issue that impacts them in far larger numbers and with more intensity and consequences.

Besides, hurting girls themselves, the practice of early marriage also has negative consequences on their children, families, and society as a whole. UNICEF (2000) argues that it is not only girls that pay for early marriage but also the society as a whole. Population pressure, health care costs and lost opportunities for human development are just a few of the growing burdens that society shoulders because of teenage pregnancies. Early marriage also undermines international efforts to fight against poverty in developing countries. Bunch (2005), makes it clear that the widespread practice of child marriage makes it increasingly difficult for families to escape poverty in the developing world, thereby undermining critical international efforts to fight poverty, HIV/AIDS and other development challenges, and making billions of dollars in development assistance less effective. Among the problems of early marriage in Nigeria is Vesico-Virginal Fistulae (VVF) which remains a serious reproductive health problem for women of childbearing age in the developing world. It is one of the most appealing misfortunes that a woman can face as a result of early pregnancy and childbirth. High maternal mortality and morbidity is another problem posed by early marriage. The world health organization estimates that the risk of death following pregnancy is twice as great for women between 15 and 19 years than for those between the ages of 20 and 24. The maternal mortality rate can be up to five times higher for girls aged between 10 and 14 than for women of about twenty years of age

This study should then seek to find answers to the following questions on the developmental implications of early marriage in Nigeria.

Research Questions

  1. What are the reasons behind early marriage perpetuation in the Uzo-Uwani local government area?
  2. Does early marriage affect girls’ wellbeing and constitutes a violation of their human rights in the Uzo-Uwani local government area?
  3. Does early marriage hinder development in the Uzo-Uwani local government area?
  4. Does early marriage lead to poor development in the Uzo-Uwani local government area?

Objectives of the Study

This research work is basically focused on developmental implications of early marriage in Nigeria, therefore, in the end; it is expected that we could be able to ascertain or proffer the causes and the developmental implications of early marriage in Nigeria and to proffer lasting solutions to minimize it.

Therefore, the specific objectives of this study are as follows:

To identify the reasons behind early marriage perpetuation in Nigeria using Uzo-Uwani local government as a paradigm.

To identify how it affects girls’ wellbeing and constitutes a violation of their human rights in the Uzo-Uwani local government area.

To investigate the consequences and developmental implications of early marriage in the Uzo-Uwani local government area.

To recommend ways of ameliorating the developmental implications of early marriage in the Uzo-Uwani local government area.

Significance of the Study

The significance of this study cannot be overemphasized because this invaluable research work will be of tremendous impact on existing knowledge about developmental implications of early marriage in Africa and Nigeria in particular.

Thus, the outcome of this work will portray a vivid idea of peoples’ perceptions and impressions on early marriage in Nigeria. It will also be of great importance to ideal administrators and sociologists.

The lessons that will be learnt from this study will be helpful to the government in enacting and implementing policies and programmes that will impede the menace of early marriage in the country. Furthermore, the ideas in this work will help immensely in the implementation and meaningful decisions and policies on developmental implications of early marriage as it affects the girl child and the entire society. On the other hand, the findings and recommendations of this research work will help tremendously to restore adequate dignity, rights and values of girl children in Nigeria, especially in the Uzo-Uwani local government council.

Last but not the least, this invaluable work will be of great significance in the sense that people should know that early marriage is not a solution to the search for economic survival, protection of young girls, peer group and family pressure, controlling female behaviour and sexuality, and socio-cultural and religious values but it is a violation of girl’s human rights as it deprives her of freedom, the opportunity for personal development, and other rights. This work will also be of academic, administrative and social assets to all Nigerians.

Scope and Limitations of the Study

The research work is expected to cover the developmental implications of early marriage in the Uzo-Uwani local government area.

This work covers the period of 1990 till date. It will touch on some vital events on early marriage which took place in Nigeria and Uzo-Uwani in particular within the stated period.

The limitations of this work include the following:

  1. Finance/fund: this was the greatest limitation or hindrance the researcher encountered during the course of this work. A lot of funds was needed to carry out this work perfectly, such as transport fare, lobbying for interviews, feeding, e.t.c as a student, it becomes very cumbersome.
  2. Time: time cannot be overemphasized when talking about the limitations of this study because it was one of the major hindrances the researcher faced during this study. Thus, this work is one of the courses/works or activities that needed equal attention of the researcher. Furthermore, the researcher being a regular student, had the engagements to attend such as reading, going to lectures, going for recreation and so many other assignments that equally claim a substantial part of the time available to him. Yet it is not an exaggeration to say that not less than 40% of his available time was spent on this invaluable study.
  3. Respondents: although the researcher got a good percentage of responses to his interview or questions, it was not easy per se for him to convince them (respondents) that the study is merely on academic exercise due to the high level of illiteracy among the people of the area in the sense that majority of their representatives/functionaries does not know the particular year the council was created talk more of knowing the landmass and the population of the council and such recorded data.

Thus, despite the above limitations, the researcher could be able to achieve his objectives by prioritizing this study to other of his activities because of time, using interpreters on respondents because of the high rate of illiteracy and effective and efficient use of the little resources in his possession. Meanwhile, data collection went smoothly despite the above challenges, presumably because the interviewers were hired/recruited locally and known to the respondents.


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