Legal Nigeria


Success Osasogie


Abike was just 12years old when the mother told her to get ready because Alhaji was coming for her in a matter of two hours. Abike couldn’t understand why her parents would want to mortgage her future for marriage.

“Mother what about my schooling”?

“Alhaji will ensure you complete your schooling after giving him at least three (3) children”.

Abike knew that completing her education once she becomes Alhaji’ wife, may not be possible knowing she was not the first, second or third but fourth wife and he had other children to sponsor their education.

This is the fate of some underage children who are forced into marriage and this is a prevailing issue in our society especially in the North. In a bid to secure the future of a child and protect the girl child, most parents give the hand of their children in marriage , this is not the definition of child protection or securing the future of such child. Child marriage is a situation where a child below the age of 18 (most times girl child) is given out in marriage. This child in question is not physically, mentally, emotionally and psychologically mature enough to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage. This is a contravention of the rights of a child because Article 16 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that persons must be at full age when married and that marriage should be entered into freely with full consent.This has not been followed to the letter as most parents still impose some suitors on their children below the age of 18. Worthy of note is that a child under the Child Rights Act is anyone below the age of 18 but some states in Nigeria(10 states) are yet to ratify and domesticate this law. The Nigerian Constitution does not expressly define the age of a child or the minimum age of marriage which makes it difficult to enforce the definition of “marriageable age” in some States where the Child Rights Act has not been domesticated.

The Saudi Ministry of Justice outrightly banned the marriage of persons under the age of 18, December last year. It also set 18 years as the minimum age for marriage, this is still an issue in Nigeria.


  1. UNIVERSAL DCELARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS: Article 16 states that persons must attain full age, freely with full consent before entering marriage. It condemns Child Marriage.
  2. CONVENTION ON RIGHTS OF A CHILD (1990): This sets the minimum age of marriage at 18.
  3. CONVENTION ON THE DISCRIMNINATION AGAINST WOMEN (1985) : CEDAW obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
  4. AFRICAN CAHARTER ON RIGHTS AND WELFARE OF THE CHILD (2001): Article 21 prohibits child marriage
  5. CHILD RIGHTS ACT (2003)


Poverty is one major reason responsible for child marriage as most parents will prefer giving out their children in marriage to reduce their economic hardship. Illiteracy is another factor, a large percentage of children who are victims of child marriage are without formal education and this applies to their parents who consent to this act. A formal education becomes a mirage when these children become wives as their survival is now dependent on their husbands. Armed conflict and violence is another factor. The instability in some parts especially the North, has further encouraged child marriage as parents now give out their female children in marriage as a means of protecting the female child from violence and abuse. Another issue is, female children are being abducted and given out as rewards to male recruits. Political and economic ties. Child marriage is encouraged by some parents to further strengthen their political and economic ties/ambition. Religion/Traditional practices play a role. Some religions are very strict about female sexuality and purity, parents will prefer daughters married off early as virgins and retain family honour. In some quarters, the age of a child doesn’t necessarily define maturity but physical appearance and mensuration. This means, parents see no challenge in giving out their children in marriage once they become physically mature.

Conflict In Definition Of Marriageable Age.

There remains a major issue as to what is the acceptable age for marriage and this is as a result of multiplicity of laws in Nigeria. The Child Rights Act defines a child as one below the age of 18 and this implies any child below this age is not of full age or matures enough to enter into a marriage. However, there is The Children and Young Persons Act, a child is defined as a person who has attained the age of 14 but is under the age of 17. This is still applicable in some states because the Child Rights Act has not been domesticated by some states thereby limiting the stretch. The Matrimonial Causes Act sets the marriageable age at 21 but this is not applicable to every state. The Marriage Act further states that were such person is under the age of written consent is required. Section 29(4)(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended defines full age as 18 and above.

There is still a conflict as regards a uniform definition of marriageable age in Nigeria considering the multiplicity of laws.

Implications of Child Marriage.

Physical pain suffered during sexual intercourse as a result of the child’s immature sexual orgas and forced sexual relations. Exposure to infection, they are more vulnerable to transmitted diseases. Another implication is school dropout amongst women into a life of poor prospects with an increased rate in violence, illiteracy, ill-health and abuse. Education gives the girl child opportunities and choices but this is limited. Making informed decisions as regards their general wellbeing and health is also hindered. Child Brides are deprived of their fundamental right  to health, education and safety. Post-Traumatic Stress disorder and depression may set in for the child bride because they are not emotionally and physically ready for marriage. Lastly societal growth is hampered when we undervalue the role of women and their contribution to growth advancement of the nation.


We must begin to appreciate the role of the female children.Educating a female is educating a generation. Societal growth and advancement will be faster when the female child is not left uneducated or without attention. Child bride should be discouraged at all levels especially in an evolving society, we cannot afford to still be backward with some limiting factors and archaic traditional practices relegating the place of female children.

Success Oghosa Osasogie is a Lagos based Legal Practitioner and a professional volunteer.

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