Girls in Nigeria Speak Out in the Fight Against Child Marriage

By Andrew Maki, N-Map’s Senior Attorney in Nigeria

Today, on International Women’s Day, N-Map is pleased to launch a new series of videos created in partnership with the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative and Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative that take an innovative approach to the fight to #endchildmarriage.

Last August, 13-year-old Ese Oruru was allegedly abducted from her home in Bayelsa State in Nigeria and trafficked to the northern city of Kano–more than 500 miles away. Her abductor was a young man who subsequently married her. Nigerians from across the country condemned Ese’s abduction, labeling the marriage a “forced marriage.” Even the Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi, one of the foremost Islamic leaders in Nigeria, ordered Ese’s release and demanded her safe return. Now 14-years-old and five months pregnant, she was recently rescued by Nigerian police and reunited with her family.

Despite the widespread public outcry over Ese’s case, child marriage is common in Northern Nigeria, where 76% of girls are married before the age of 18. To tackle the issue of child marriage in Northern Nigeria, we teamed up with Nigeria’s Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative (IWEI) and the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) to create a series of videos that ignite new conversations about child marriage, and empower Nigerians with religious and legal arguments to bring about lasting policy changes.   

Child marriage is a volatile issue within a highly complex cultural, religious, and economic context. And there are numerous documentaries that use cultural shaming or simply highlight the negative consequences of the practice. Instead, we worked with IWEI and WRAPA to create a campaign, informed by the women affected and their representatives, that features the compelling culture, people, and religious practices of Northern Nigeria itself to fight the practice of child marriage in the region. Given the impact that child marriage has on the hearts, minds, and bodies of girls, our project amplifies and centers their voices in the fight.

The first of three videos, Girls in Their Own Voicescentralizes girls themselves as powerful advocates. Through their stories of how child marriage affected and affects their lives, Girls in Their Own Voices rebuts the common myth that child marriage doesn’t exist in contemporary Nigeria–a myth often employed to obstruct the passage of policies and laws with potential for meaningful change. 

Building on this, the second film, Education is Our Future highlights the importance of girls receiving and completing an education. It interweaves the voices of girls and women with interviews from Islamic scholars, doctors, fathers, and community leaders to clearly demonstrate the wide-ranging benefits of educating girls to all of society. It highlights the higher quality of life enjoyed by educated girls and their families, including improved life skills, better employment opportunities, and better nutrition, while child marriage results in a lack of education, high rates of infant and maternal mortality, malnutrition, depression, domestic violence, and the intentional disempowerment of girls through forced pregnancy. By focusing on the positive ripple effects girls’ education has on girls, families, communities, and Nigerian society, Education is Our Future offers a new and more positive narrative about how to promote girls education, and in doing so, combat child marriage.

The final piece, entitled, Too Young to Consent and Too Young to be Judged challenges the practices of child, early, and forced marriage head-on by explaining that under Islamic jurisprudence, a girl’s consent is essential to marriage. To accomplish this, Too Young to Consent features interviews with Islamic scholars, traditional leaders, and lawyers that interpret the teachings of the Qur’an and various hadiths.

 

Combined, our three videos will speak directly to girls, parents, community-level leaders, Islamic leaders, and legislators. Each film targets an individualized, but critical audience in a manner that’s tailored to their respective roles and positions in society. Over the next year IWEI and WRAPA will screen our videos for these target audiences across Northern Nigeria in order to convince parents, Islamic scholars, and others to support education for girls and institute a national law that prevents girls from marrying before the age of 18.

Globally it’s estimated that 15 million girls are married every year—the vast majority are forced to terminate their educations and aren’t allowed to develop skills that might equip them for income-generating work, many experience violence at the hands of their much-older husbands, and nearly all suffer emotional trauma. Further, it’s hard for these societies to develop economically or otherwise without the participation of half of the population. Our hope is that the unique power of video to share unheard stories translates into direct action that will ultimately inspire much-needed social changes.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we invite you to please share these videos and support IWEI and WRAPA as they work on the frontlines to empower girls and undermine practices that deny their human rights. Together we can end child, early, and forced marriage across the globe.

 

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