Photo credit: Wellbeing Foundation
Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?
Nigeria has the 11th highest prevalence of child marriage in the world, and the third highest absolute number of women married or in a union before the age of 18 in the world – 3,742,000.
3% of boys in Nigeria are married before the age of 18.
Child marriage is most common in the North West and North East of Nigeria, where 68% and 57% of women aged 20-49 were married before their 18th birthday. Child marriage is particularly common among Nigeria’s poorest, rural households and the Hausa ethnic group.
A 2017 World Bank/ICRW study estimated that ending child marriage could generate Nigeria an additional USD7.6 billion in earnings and productivity.
Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?
Nigeria has in recent years been gripped by escalating violence that has spread across some West and Central African countries. Clashes between government forces and armed groups linked to ISIL and al-Qaeda, including Boko Haram (a jihadist terrorist organisation based in North-eastern Nigeria), compromised the education and health systems, and forced thousands to flee their homes. This has led to increased rates of school dropouts and violence against women and girls, including child marriage.
Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys. Humanitarian settings like in Nigeria can exacerbate poverty, insecurity, and lack of access to services such as education, factors which all drive child marriage. Often in times of crisis, families see child marriage as a way to cope with greater economic hardship and to protect girls from increased violence. Nigerian families facing extreme famine and living in refugee camps are marrying off their daughters because they lack alternative survival options. In Nigeria, child marriage is also exacerbated by:
- Armed conflict and violence against girls: Ongoing instability and conflict continue to impact on the prevalence of child marriage. The abduction of 276 Chibok girls in 2014 was just one instance of a disturbing tactic used by Boko Haram where child marriage is used as a weapon of war. Christian and Muslim girls have been kidnapped and married off by Boko Haram in an attempt to dismantle communities and attract male recruits who are awarded “wives” if they fight. Some parents have been killed for refusing to marry off their daughters. In the context of Boko Haram violence, the practice of child marriage has also acquired further justification as a strategy for protecting girls from kidnapping, sexual assault and unwanted out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
- Poverty: Girls are frequently married off as a way to lessen the economic burden for their families.
- Level of education:73% of Nigerian women with no formal education were married before 18, compared to only 9% who had completed higher education. Further education is almost impossible for some girls, who have little choice but to depend on their husbands for the rest of their lives.
- Political and economic ties: Some girls are married off by their parents to enhance political and social alliances with rich families or business partners and to improve their economic status.
- Harmful traditional practices: “Prepubescent” marriage is very common in Nigeria. A girl is first married, and the man is expected not to touch her until she reaches puberty. Some Nigerian men reportedly prefer to marry children. Parents marry off their daughters at a very early age to ensure they marry as virgins and thereby retain the family honour. Girls are not accepted as equal partners within marriages, which contributes to a sense of low self-worth.
Religion: Religion has been found to be a supportive frame for persistent cultural traditions that justify child marriage in Nigeria. There are strict religious taboos regarding female sexuality and purity, and preachers argue that under Islamic doctrines girls’ maturity for marriage is defined by physical appearance and menstruation.
What has this country committed to?
Nigeria has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. During its Voluntary National Review at the 2017 High Level Political Forum, the government noted that most states in the North of the country manage a cash transfer programme aimed at reducing girls’ school dropout rates due to early marriage.
Nigeria co-sponsored the 2018 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage. Nigeria also signed a joint statement at the 2014 Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.
Nigeria ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
In 2001 Nigeria ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage. In 2004 Nigeria ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, including Article 6 which sets the minimum age for marriage as 18.
In 2013, the UN Child Rights Committee expressed concern about the extremely high rate of child marriage among girls in Northern states. It urged the government to undertake awareness-raising programmes on the negative implications of child marriage among parents, state parliamentarians and traditional and religious leaders.
In 2017, the CEDAW Committee expressed concerns about the prevalence of child marriage in Nigeria. The Committee recommended Nigeria to:
- Take effective measures to prohibit and eliminate child marriage, including through awareness-raising efforts and by prosecuting and punishing perpetrators and accomplices;
- Ensure that the Child Rights Act of 2003, which sets the legal age of marriage at 18 years for both women and men, is applied throughout the country;
- Amend the sections of the Constitution and the Criminal Code which legitimise child marriage.
The CEDAW Committee also expressed concerns about the significant number of girls who were abducted by Boko Haram from Chibok and Damasak in Borno State in April and November 2014, respectively, who have not been rescued and continue to be subjected to rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and impregnation by insurgents.
During its 2013 Universal Periodic Review, Nigeria supported recommendations to address child marriage by putting in place legislation clarifying the legal age for marriage. During its 2018 Universal Periodic Review, Nigeria agreed to review recommendations to intensify actions to end child marriage, including by ensuring that the 2017–2021 National Strategy to End Child Marriage and the Child Rights Act are fully implemented in all states.
In 2015, Commonwealth countries (including Nigeria) adopted the Kigali Declaration, which sets out a framework for action by National Human Rights Institutions on child marriage.
In 2016, Nigeria launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.
As a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in 2017 Nigeria adopted the Strategic Framework for Strengthening National Child Protection Systems under which protecting children from marriage is a priority. In June 2019, the ECOWAS Heads of State endorsed the ECOWAS Child Policy and Strategic Action Plan and the 2019-2030 Roadmap on prevention and response to child marriage.
In addition, in July 2019, the ECOWAS First Ladies signed “The Niamey Declaration: Call to End Child Marriage and to promote the Education and empowerment of Girls”, calling Member States to initiate legislative, institutional and budgetary reforms to implement the Roadmap.
In 2019, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, Nigeria committed to achieve zero gender-based violence and harmful practices against women, girls and youth and implement the National Strategic Plan to end Child Marriage and the Act on Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) at all levels.
Nigeria is one of the countries where the Spotlight Initiative (a global, multi-year partnership between European Union and United Nations) is supporting efforts to end all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls.
Nigeria is one of the countries where the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/DREAMS Initiative is working to reduce rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women.
Nigeria is a pathfinder country for the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children and partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
What is the government doing to address this at the national level?
In 2016 the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development launched a National Strategy to End Child Marriage. The strategy’s vision is to reduce child marriage by 40% by 2020 and end the practice entirely by 2030. The strategy aims to, among others, change harmful cultural norms and support community programs that increase access to girls’ education and provide young women with economic opportunities.
A Technical Working Group on Ending Child Marriage was formed at the end of 2015. The Group is composed of over 30 members, including UN agencies and Girls Not Brides members, and aims to raise awareness, encourage behaviour change and monitor and evaluate laws and policies.
At the Conference on the Social Protection of the Girl Child organised by ActionAid Nigeria in 2016, the Emir of Kano announced he would bring in renowned Islamic Clerics from all over the world to discuss this issue at an international conference.
from the Nat strategies excel
Africa team/NP team – any updates on this as I know TWG has been revived last year by the Ministry?
What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?
There are several different laws related to the minimum legal age of marriage in Nigeria.
Under the Marriage Act 1990 the minimum legal age of marriage 21 years for girls and boys, although they are able to marry before this with written consent from a parent or guardian.
Under the Child Rights Act 2003, the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years. However, out of 36 Nigerian States, there were still 12 (11 of which are located in the north of the country) that have not included the Child’s Rights Act 2003 in their internal legislation. It follows that in those States local laws are applied, most of which are Islamic Law provisions, and the minimum age of marriage in some of those States is as low as 12 years. In 2013, the government stated that efforts have been made to sensitise states about the Child Rights Act in order to improve enforcement.
There is also a lack of harmonisation between the Child Rights Act 2003 which sets 18 years as the minimum age of marriage and the Sexual Offences Bill 2015 which sets the minimum age of sexual consent at 11 years.
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* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
Members In Nigeria
- Action Aid
- Action Health Incorporated
- Active Voices
- Adolescent Health & Information Projects (AHIP)
- African Association for Prevention of Elders and Child Abuse (AAPECA)
- African Centre for Citizens Orientation (ACCO)
- African Child Education Right Initiatives
- African Girl Child Development and Support Initiative (AGCDSI)
- African Girls Empowerment Network (AGE Network)
- Alliances for Africa
- Arise Nigerian Woman Foundation
- Balanced Stewardship Development Association (BALSDA)
- Bella Foundation for Child and Maternal Care (BEFCAMC)
- Beyond Mentors Community Care Initiative (BMCCI)
- Care and Development Centre (CADEC)
- Center for Religious Cooperation and Tolerance
- Champions Trail International Foundation (CTIF)
- Child and Youth Protection Foundation (CYPF)
- Child Shield Initiative (CSI)
- Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP)
- Community Teen Foundation
- Daughters of Abraham Foundation (DOAF)
- David Bassey Ikpeme Foundation
- Dbegotin Educational Foundation (DEF)
- Development Education and Advocacy Resources for Africa (DEAR Africa)
- Dynamic Youth Development Organization (DYDO)
- El-Shaddai Rural Health & Development Foundation
- Elshaddai Life Support (ELSI)
- Envision Global Care Foundation (EGCF)
- Future Prowess Islamic Foundation (FPIF)
- Gender and Development Action
- Girl Child Concerns
- Girl-Child Right Awareness Initiative in Africa
- GIRLS VOICES INITIATIVE
- Girls’ Power Initiative (GPI)
- Global Improvement of Less Privileged Persons
- Global Initiative for Girls Rights Education and Empowerment (GIGREE)
- Good Living Initiative
- Grassroots Health Organization of Nigeria
- Halliru Youth Development and Empowerment Initiative (AYDI)
- Hope for Family Development Initiative (HFDI)
- Ihotu Children and Women Support Initiative (ICAWSI)
- International Center for Accelerated Development (ICAD)
- International Center for Sexual Reproductive Rights (INCRESE)
- Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative (IWEI)
- Journalists Initiative for Youth Empowerment (JI4YE)
- Life Intervention Project
- Olive Community Development Initiatives (OCDI)
- One Voice Initiative for Women and Children Emancipation (OVIWCE)
- Operation Rescue (OPER)
- Outlook Humanitarian Care Initiative (OHCI)
- Rhealyz Global Empowerment Initiative (Rhealyz Africa)
- Ripples Foundation (RF)
- Save & Nurture Child Care Foundation (SNCC)
- Sexual Offences Awareness & Victims Rehabilitation Initiative (SOAR)
- Society for Life Changers and Good Parental Care (SoLife)
- Society for the Improvement of Rural People (SIRP)
- Society to Heighten Awareness of Women and Children Abuse (SOTHAWACA)
- Socio-Economic Research and Development Centre (SERDEC)
- The Wellbeing Foundation
- VSO International
- Woman Missionaries to African Nations
- Women and Girl-Child Capabilities Enhancement and Empowerment Organization (WGCCEEO)
- Women and Young People’s Awareness Initiative (WAYAI)
- Women and Youth Development Initiative
- Women Friendly Initiative (WFI)
- Women Information Network (WINET)
- Women United for Economic Empowerment (WUEE)
- Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL)
- Women’s Initiative for Self-Actualization
- Young Pearl Foundation
- Youths with Potentials Initiative (YWPI)