Home > Articles, Golden Thoughts > Underage Marriage? – My Viewpoint from a Personal Perspective by Raphael Ojigbede

Underage Marriage? – My Viewpoint from a Personal Perspective by Raphael Ojigbede


A few days back, I asked a question on my Facebook update about the ChildNotBride issue. What followed was some lengthy discussion on the topic with my friends. Basically, there seems to be the notion that sex was different from marriage otherwise implying a girl less than 18 could possibly have intercourse and not be married.

Short of that, exposing a girl of early age to some of the physical, emotional and psychological dangers that come with sex. These are some of the factors that have been pointed out as reasons a girl below 18 should not be married in the first place. Let me proceed by closely looking at some of the points that have been raised.

For starters, that I asked the question does not mean I support a 50 year old man marrying a 14 year old girl. As a matter of personal opinion though, the difference in ages of couples should
not be more than 5 years but should it extend beyond 10-12, I consider it simply too much.

Personally therefore, a man of 50 shouldn’t marry a 13 year old just as a man of 60 should also not marry a woman of 24. Given the state of affairs in the country today, particularly socio-economic factors, I find the 18 year benchmark understandably acceptable. It sure makes a lot of sense
to me as it’s difficult today to take care of oneself let alone a partner. But in the
event it’s possible to take care of the other, shouldn’t marriage be welcomed?

Now if you ask me to stick out my neck
for the minimum age for a female to marry, then yes for me 16 would be more like it. Let me state categorically however that I do not suggest a girl
must or should marry once she turns 16. Nope. However, if there is a man who, like I said before, is no more than 5 years older or in extreme 10 and is
willing and able to take care of her needs, then of course yes, he can. But needless to say the girl must give her
consent to such arrangement
and should NOT and NEVER be forced.

Now the question is, does a man of that age have what it takes? Well, more often, it’s a no! He ought be able to but why can’t he? One of the many reasons poverty eradication must be a serious agenda of the government, not mere propaganda.

Another concern is if a 16 year-old girl in Nigeria says she wants to get married why would you allow her? Should it not be your position to let her know better? True. But trust me, if she were to tell you she wants to, you should certainly know that such a girl will do ‘things’ if denied her wish to get married! But then again, I believe most persons that believe no marriage
before 18 really mean well as their intention is to protect young girls in their teens from forced marriages. To be sure, I do not accept or subscribe to forced marriage regardless her age.

Marriage must be a matter of
choice between partners not coercion.
Someone will probably ask me if one supports a child of even 16 getting married because you hastily assume she gave her consent, but won’t you be jeopardising her future? And in an age where female empowerment is
certainly a serious matter (and believe me I’m a staunch supporter), how
is a married girl of 16 ever going to achieve that?

For me, it really is simple. I realise from certain experiences that what makes us
who or what we are or become has much to do with our mentality. There
are people determined to excel in life and nothing or no situation will stop them not even marriage! Perhaps, not
my best example but at least I know the actress Omotola married at 18, completed child-bearing by 24 and proceeded to pursue her career and
the rest they say is history. She married at 18 but if she was not determined to excel and of course had not married an enlightened man too she would most likely have a housewife forever and won’t have known her as Omotola as we do today. This I hope proves my point on the crucial role of one’s mentality!

From the medical point of view however, health factors surely has to be the biggest worry. This is not unrelated to the problems of adolescent pregnancies which no doubt are real and truly worrisome, and on this basis, it definitely is even advisable she
does not marry and or get pregnant till her twenties (a WHO recommendation). Yes, even a girl that marries at 18 and goes into labour at 19 is still an adolescent!

It must also be pointed out too that these problems are worsened by the conditions of poverty and ignorance of our people. Most of the teenage pregnancies occur among girls in
the low socio-economic strata of the society with little or no education with
majority forced into sex due to seeing it as a means to make ends meet. Sometimes, they engage go in sexual relationships for mere pleasure or due to peer pressure, and yes parental pressure as well, unaware of the negative implications that may arise from such decision.

The policy of encouraging sex among
this same age-group by advising/giving
contraceptive use is also not left
out. Yet in it’s defence, it might have been a whole lot worse due to the general moral decadence which seem to be at it’s worst in recent times. Now when this same girls become pregnant, they are usually too afraid to open up about it because they simply consider it shameful in the society they find themselves or they were not fully prepared for this possibility (mind you if the same girl was married, it won’t be the same).

Consequently, some will seek abortions usually from quacks (as it is not legalised in Nigeria) which may likely lead regrettably to sudden death or subsequent infertility, if they are lucky enough to cheat death. Some others who choose not to abort will
not report for antenatal care; while some never opting for the inevitably disastrous home delivery or presenting very late posing serious obstetric challenge even to an experienced obstetrician. Perinatal, maternal morbidity and mortality, VVF, obstructed labour, post partum haemorrhage, puerperal psychosis are just some of the health challenges young mothers are exposed to, not neglecting malnutrition, anaemia etc. she would have faced while pregnant.

That the girl-child is from a higher socio-economic strata, educated nay married, it does not completely prevent these scenarios. However, you will agree with me that it can certainly reduce some of the difficulties and challenges that would have been faced, medically, physically and psychologically. After all, older
women experience it. By the way, a less educated or informed, poor 24 year old woman can have similar problems.

The issue of maturity and experience were also raised in the discourse. Although age affects both, for all practical purposes we know
maturity isn’t, strictly speaking, just a function of age. For all the experience an older woman has acquired, has marriage life been sincerely made easier for her? If otherwise, how then do we explain the increasing incidence of divorces, reckless promiscuity among married persons or mental/emotional breakdown in even the older age groups etc.

Whether we accept it or not, there is certainly a religious aspect to this issue. This is informed by the fact that Islam evidently allows for early marriage, with parental consent sufficing. And in a country with about half of it’s population as adherents, we will be deceiving ourselves to say people
are merely using religion as a cover for their wicked acts. Of course, I also know that a blind adherence to every aspect of faith makes one a
fanatic though. This I believe should be avoided as such but try as we may, some things may not be stopped especially as our religious beliefs are

Discussing this issue with my younger one, she opined that it was a complicated one as it afffects and has been affected by many other societal issues. She simply felt there may be other relevant matters to be actively pursued, as when are our students would be returning to school? You
are a student. You are at home. Not saying the ChildNotBride issue is not relevant but I personally wonder why we are not signing petitions to force government and ASUU to get you back to the classrooms? What about petitions to to address the seemingly endless
menace caused by Boko Haram with other security issues challenging the
society as well?

As a friend had stated in a Facebook comment, it should be ChildNotSlave rather than bride as
our young girls are hawking everyday yet nothing serious is said and
or done about this. Even some of ChildNotBride proponents/supporters
have many of these poor young girls as househelps, many of them denied their right to education. Others are simply abused, sexually and physically. It is well! It really is well!

Conclusively, until we decide to seriously deal with the various issues plaguing us holistically and persistently, we may just be riding on another sensational story. This is because in a few days, the noise dies till yet another time. If we continue like this, we would not make a headway in this nation. God
bless Naija!!!

Raphael Ojigbede is a Doctor. He is a graduate of the College of Medicine, University of Benin, Benin City, Edo State. You can connect with him on his Facebook profile, Raphael ‘Rafosky’ Ojigbede.

Categories: Articles, Golden Thoughts
  1. Kenneth Ejiofor
    31/07/2013 at 08:31

    If this matter must be resolved, the issue of education for all must be addressed too. Illiteracy is one major power backing child marriage. Such marriages are still taking place right now as we are talking now yet those involved are not hearing all these “shouts” in media. How will she know it is not good for her? God help us.

    • 01/08/2013 at 02:55

      u’r absolutely spot on Ken, may God truly help us

  2. 31/07/2013 at 15:46

    From the personal perspective of the author of this piece, I appreciate the fears and concerns expressed, particularly the intermingling and interrelated socio-economic, religious and cultural factors affecting the girl-child in our society. I will pitch my tent with Ken, that the role. Of education cannot be downplayed. Early marriage is prevalent in the northern states of the country largely because apart from failing to sign into law the Child Rights Act, their policy on education is equally something to worry about. Add these to the “Islamic propaganda”, and that’s the end of the story.

    • 01/08/2013 at 03:25

      indeed Senator the role of education&public enlightenment too simply cannot be overemphasized at all and if real progress is to be made then greater efforts must be made to make people understand that decisions are not made to undermine their culture or religion but in the best interest of the girl child yet we must also respect each other’s freedom and show a considerable understanding as well particularly if we hope to avoid anarchy or violence!

  3. 01/08/2013 at 11:54

    The noise is already fading slowly, many things are wrong in Nigeria but we alwways limit ourselves to the smallest of our problems

    • 01/08/2013 at 14:48

      very true Josh, we need to start dealing with our issues in a more pragmatic manner not just noise making alone! Education not just in classrooms but the public as well remains the key!

  1. 06/08/2013 at 14:14

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