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Nigeria

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
18%
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
44%
International Ranking*

11

* References

* 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)

Photo credit: Wellbeing Foundation

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
18%
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
44%
International Ranking*

11

* References

* 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?

44% of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday and 18% are married before the age of 15.

According to UNICEF, Nigeria has the third highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 3,538,000 – and the 11th highest prevalence rate of child marriage globally.

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 study estimates that child marriage costs Nigeria USD7.6 billion in lost earnings and productivity every year.

Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?

Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys. In Nigeria, child marriage is also driven by:

  • 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.
  • Gender norms: Some Nigerian men reportedly prefer to marry children. Girls are not accepted as equal partners within marriages, which contributes to a sense of low self-worth. A 2004 study shows that domestic violence is more common among marriages involving young girls in Nigeria.
  • Violence against girls: The abduction of 276 Chibok girls in 2014 was just one instance of a disturbing tactic used by Boko Haram – child marriage 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.
  • Poverty: The humanitarian crisis in North Eastern Nigeria left more than two million people displaced since 2016. Families facing extreme famine and living in refugee camps sometimes marry off their daughters because they lack alternative survival options.

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 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 2016, Nigeria launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.

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.

As a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Nigeria has adopted the Strategic Framework for Strengthening National Child Protection Systems under which protecting children from marriage is a priority.

During its 2013 Universal Periodic Review, Nigeria supported recommendations to address child marriage by putting in place legislation clarifying the legal age for marriage.

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.

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.

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.

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.

At the Conference on the Social Protection of the Girl Child organised by ActionAid Nigeria, 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.

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 as of May 2017 there were still 12 Nigerian States (11 of which are located in the north of the country) that did not include 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.

Source

Action Aid Nigeria, Conference on the Social Protection of the Girl Child, 2016, (accessed April 2018)

African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, [website], 2018, (accessed February 2018)

African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, [website], 2018, (accessed February 2018)

African Union, Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa: Call to Action, 2013, (accessed February 2018)

Allen and Oluwatomipe, Health Implication of Child Marriage in North-East Nigeria, 2017, (accessed March 2018)

BBC, Nigeria crisis: The children who know only hunger, [website], 2016, (accessed April 2018)

Federal Republic of Nigeria, Implementation of the SDGs A National Voluntary Review, 2017, (accessed June 2018)

Human Rights Watch, Ending Child Marriage: Meeting the Global Development Goals’ Promise to Girls, [website], 2016, (accessed April 2018)

National Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF, Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2016-17, Survey Findings Report, 2017, (accessed April 2018)

New York Times, Child, Bride, Mother: Nigeria, [website], 2017, (accessed April 2018)

ORC Macro, Profiling Domestic Violence: A Multi-Country Study, 2004, (accessed April 2018)

Population Council, Child Marriage Briefing Nigeria, 2004, (accessed April 2018)

The Commonwealth, Kigali Declaration Moving from aspiration to action to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage in the Commonwealth, 2015,  (accessed April 2018)

UN General Assembly, Compilation prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with paragraph 15 (b) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 and paragraph 5 of the annex to Council resolution 16/21 Nigeria, 2013, p.9, (accessed April 2018)

UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Nigeria, 2013, p.19, (accessed April 2018)

United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, (accessed February 2018)

Women Advocates’ Research & Documentation Centre, NGO Coalition Shadow Report to the 7th & 8th Periodic Report of Nigeria on Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 2017, (accessed April 2018)

World Bank, Economic Impacts of Child Marriage: Work, Earnings and Household Welfare Brief, 2017, (accessed March 2018)

* 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)

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