The United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) has expressed worry over the increasing rate of violence against children, saying that economically, Nigeria looses $8.9bn yearly to violence against children including the issues of child marriage.
UNICEF Chief Child Protection Officer, Ibrahim Sese, disclosed this in Abuja on Thursday during the official launch and dissemination of “the state of the Nigerian Girl Report” tagged: The Diagnosis of Child Marriage and Girls Education in Nigeria.
Sese said child marriage is a key driver of challenges within the country especially within the northern region due to school dropouts and adolescent pregnancies, this, he said leads to high maternal mortality and malnutrition amongst girls.
According to him, since 2003 there has been a 9% decline in the prevalence of child marriage in Nigeria which projected further brings a 6% increase by 2030.
He however said the steady increase in the population of number of child rights would heighten with more than a million in 2030 and will double by 2050.
“When you look at violence against children in Nigeria, and you look at the economic burden of violence against children, Nigeria is loosing $8.9bn as a result of violence against children including the issues with regards to child marriage.
“Married girls find it difficult to negotiate sex and pregnancy, have limited authority and are less likely to give birth in a health facility, this increases their chances of morbidity and suffer inadequate care at home which leads to domestic violence,” he explained.
He maintained that the prevalence of child marriage undermines ability to promote sustainable development, saying this has detrimental effects on children, women, families and nation at large due to high maternal mortality, illiteracy, lack of skills, unemployment etc.
“Yet parents marry off their daughters because they think this is the way to protect them. Nigeria has the largest number of child marriage in Africa, with one in every five under aged girls are married off early,” he lamented.
He, therefore, stressed the need for the government and stakeholders to strengthen mechanisms that will protect children from any form of abuse and harmful practices affecting them.
In her address, Minister of Women Affairs Dame Pauline Tallen made a clarion call to change the situation of girls in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), inclusive and equitable education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.
She recalled UNICEF’s 2017 report which shows that the Girl-Child constitute 60 per cent of the13.5 million out of school children in Nigeria, adding that 15 million girls were married off before they turned 18 years with devastating consequences on their health, education, and wellbeing.
“Being a girl child automatically makes a child vulnerable to issues, such as denial of access to education, inequality, child marriage, sexual violence, exploitation, and other negative vices,” she said.
The minister, therefore urged wives of governors and other stakeholders to support the government in prioritising girl-child education as a spring board to addressing the challenges confronting them.
“I call for the collaborative efforts of state and non-state actors including Development Partners to support the efforts of Government towards Girl Child Education and ending child marriage to accelerate the achievement of our common goals and our collective dreams of promoting the total wellbeing of the Girl Child in Nigeria,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Health, Ehanire Osagie, described child marriage as illegal, saying this makes children more vulnerable to violence, abuse and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV.
Also, in her goodwill message, the wife of Kwara state Governor, Folake Abdulrazak, called for the full implementation of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, while stressing the need to end child marriage by getting rid of some cultural practices that encourages Gender Based Violence (GBV).