By Nsan Ndoma-Neji, Calabar

A pro-girls and women group, operating in Nigeria under the aegis of Women Aid Collective, WACOL, has raised the alarm over the number of under-aged girls being married of before clocking the age of 18, describing the act as barbaric, insisting that such act ends up pushing the young girl into poverty, since the girls would be uneducated.

WACOL frowned at this tradition, stressing that girls who marry before clocking 18 years end up suffering a lot of medical conditions which include: Vesicovaginal Fistula, VVF, making the victims unable to control urine.

WACOL founding director, Prof. Joy Ezeilo, who said this disclosed that at the end of the day, the essence of the marriage would become defeated, calling on parents to allow their girl-child mature before allowing them to go out to marry.

Prof. Ezeilo stated this while speaking at the one-day interactive meeting/engagement with opinion leaders to secure support for women and girls’ access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, SRHR, prevention of Violence Against Woman and Girls, sexual and gender-based violence, and harmful practice, VAWG/SGBV/HP organized by WACOL in collaboration with the UNDP under EU-UN Spotlight Initiative Project yesterday in Calabar.

She said that available statistics revealed that over 60 million girls across 127 counties of the world, including Nigeria, usually get married before they clock 18 years of age, while in some cases the under-aged girls sometimes being sexually molested, raped, or badly treated with the crime not explicitly condemned in marriage.

Ezeilo, who was represented by a legal practitioner and resource person, Helen Kalu, stated that the goal of the interactive meeting is to help to build capacity of human right defenders, who include youths, traditional and religious leaders, and community stakeholders to fight all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls in their places of influence.

Ezeilo maintained that the engagement with the opinion leaders is to ensure that there is end to wives battery, rape, sexual harassment of under-aged girls within their vicinities.

She said, “The statistics is from 127 countries of the world. It was discovered that 60 per cent of girls in these countries marry before the age of 18. One out of four pregnant women go through physical and sexual abuse.

“A lot things had been identified as being responsible for engaging in early marriage, which include poverty, and cultural beliefs in our communities; some have this erroneous belief that women and girls are meant for only procreation and nothing else.

“All they belief is that education and development in other areas of life is not a priority, but issues of procreation are to be taken seriously. When a girl-child gets married and begins to procreate it means she had achieved. But I tell you that is a myth.”

The academic don averred that the organization is at the moment rendering services, building capacities of defenders, who will go out of their ways to fight the crime and make them understand the right approach to be applied in the fight against this outright injustice to women and girls.

She stressed that WACOL is engaging religious and opinion leaders in the community to ensure that the menace of violence against women and girls is brought to an end, adding that they are passionate to build capacity of the religious, traditional and youth leaders, with the expectation that they will work with greater capacity and speed to put an end to violence against women and girls.

Speaking on the topic: ‘Violence as an Impediment to Women and Girls,’ the founding director stressed that the organization sees the training as a way of getting the leaders of thoughts, who include women leaders, with other side attractions, to put an end to child abandonment, branding of children as witches and neglect of children.

In the course of the training of these defenders, members of the organization visited traditional, Islamic and Christian leaders, to rub minds with them and perhaps to lobby them on the strategies to be employed to tackle violence against women.

She said, “Your girl-child is as good as the male child, and she is entitled to education, knowing the risk and consequences that is involved with early marriage; we should allow our girl-child to be matured before going into marriage.

“The Child Right Act, which had been localized in Cross River State, states that a child is anyone who is under the age of 18, and that once she is above 18, she can comfortably be allowed to get married and perform her responsibilities.”

The event was rounded off with a lecture delivered by another resource person from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, Dr. Ndubuisi Nwafor, whose paper presentation dwelt on ‘The Cultural Values and Norms of a People.

Dr Nwafor stressed that in as much as the leaders of thought were eager to put an end to the traditional and harmful practices, caution should be taken so as not to expunge the good aspect of the people’s culture and norms.


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