Modern Slavery, Child Exploitation or Both? Child Marriage in Nigeria

Despite child marriage being recognized and prohibited by both international and domestic laws within Nigeria. Child marriage is still prevalent, especially in the North and argued as an Islamic religious practice.

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In 2010, when a 49-year-old senator in Nigeria married a 13-year-old girl in a society-celebrated wedding in northern Nigeria, both the event and the incidence of child marriage in Nigeria gained global attention. The senator was rich and influential, and paid a dowry of $100,000 to the child’s parents. Many observers interpreted the dowry as the girl having been sold to the rich senator and, thus, a form of modern-day slavery.

In Nigeria, child marriage has different faces. Arguably, it is both a cultural and religious practice. Culturally, it is practised in all parts of Nigeria; in northern Nigeria, particularly, it is also argued to be Islamic instruction. Essentially, adherents of Islam argue that it is a religious practice which the prophet Mohammed exemplified and which his followers should practise. Research, however, reveals that child marriage predates Islam. Despite the evidence that child marriage was more of a cultural than religious practice in early Islamic societies, adherents in Nigeria, especially in the North, hold steadfast to the practice and fight any intervention of law or the state to eradicate it. In fact, they raise legal provisions to justify their stand.

Research has shown that child marriage is linked to poverty. Moreover, child marriage is increasingly understood as a form of modern slavery and child exploitation. It is generally understood that a child is any person under the age of 18. Therefore, child marriage is marriage to anyone younger than 18, even if such a union is deemed ‘legal’.

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