Nigerian leaders have been tasked to stop marrying teenage girls, far younger than themselves if the nation must actualize its dream of protecting the girl child.
Aisha Yesufu, a representative of the Bring Back Our Girls group, made the charge at a two-day national conference on the social protection of the girl child, in Abuja.
She noted that it was pointless for leaders to pose as protectors of the girl child if their action tells the opposite.
“If we keep saying something and doing the opposite, it makes no sense”.
“If we are saying that we want to protect the girl child, and want her to go to school; then our leaders should not be seeing marrying girls who are still in school,” she said.
Ms. Yesufu added that the culture which permits polygamy should not be abused by any one, especially role models in society.
“A situation whereby someone already has three wives, and then goes to marry a girl who is 30 years his junior, because he is a leader; what does that say to other girls her age?” she queried.
Ms. Yesufu added that the society should treat as paedophiles men who marry girls in their early teens just because they feel capable of ensuring medical treatment that might sustain her health.
“A person who can do that as far as I am concerned is a paedophile and should be treated as such.”
Also delivering the key note address, Emir of Kano, Mohammed Sanusi, said the problem of child marriage is the resultant effect of poor governance and wide spread poverty which has devastating effects on the nation.
“Why else will parents give their children away at such young ages?”
Mr. Sanusi only recently married an Adamawa princess who is just 18 years. He received huge criticisms and in defence he said his new wife was not only old enough for marriage, but consented to it. He said his wedding to her was a cultural partnership, rather than a romantic one based on just sexual relations.
In his opening remark, regional director, Ford Foundation; Africa, Innocent Chukwuma, said a 2012 report by the United Nations populations’ fund forecasts that at least 150 million girls will be married before attaining the age of 18, if current trend continues.
“Perhaps one of the starkest examples is manifest by the nearly 10 million girls who are married every year,” Mr. Chukwuma said.
Speaking earlier at the event, the wife of Nigeria’s president, Aisha, Buhari, noted that child marriage affects the health, education and even economic condition of the child, as well as increasing the tendency of domestic violence.
She said the selected areas – violence, kidnaping and child marriage are practical realities in Nigeria that have further deprived girls access to their inalienable rights.