It is an honour to be granted this rare opportunity by the World Bank to comment on this topic and I hope that this work will pass the desired message and create a lasting impact in ending early child marriage in Africa.
A convenient departure point therefore may be to establish the reasons for this practice. Poverty, cultural-religious tradition, social-pressure, illiteracy, regional-customs, bride price are the leading causes of early child marriage in Nigeria.
To address this issue, journeying back to the family unit of the society is key. Educating members of the family about the evils of early child marriage will help to create a future society devoid of this practice.
Despite the abundant resource of Nigeria, majority of the citizens live below the poverty level. This culminated into the ripple effect that is pushing children into early marriage. Empowering children with skills and finance to be self-reliant is a reliable remedy to poverty.
In Katsina State for example, the free education offered to children have helped to drastically reduce child marriage. Although lapses still exist, it is a proven model that demonstrates how education shapes the mind and equip children with the will power to fight for their future.
Without the male folks, there will be no early child marriage. Engaging them in the fight against early child marriage will forestall normalcy to the marriage institution.
One mistake common among change agents is that they try to communicate extension information to their local audience in a foreign language. Anti-child marriage agents should adopt the language of the host communities during public campaigns in order to win over the people.
The internet and media is another powerful tool whose benefits have not been fully harnessed in Nigeria. Leveraging this sector to organize awareness and enlightenment campaigns will keep every home informed since every household in Nigeria own a phone.
The king of Tiv tribe recently ordered his people to lower the dowry of the girl child. A memorandum to de-emphasize hike in bride price should be implemented by all traditional rulers to discourage parents who may be tempted by the juicy dowry received from early marriage.
Many a child do not have anyone to confide in regarding issues related to abuse. Establishing women groups where experienced women and victims of early child marriage will help children under pressure to get relieve and expose culprits.
Another way to stop early child marriage is to enforce laws and policies that will criminalise the practice. The average Nigerian is afraid of litigation so this will help in discouraging principal players.
Northern Nigeria, a Muslim dominated region is faced with the highest rate of early child marriage. This is not un-connected with the ignorance that breeds among her followers. Engaging Islamic clerics who have wealth of experience in persuading their subjects can lead to abolishment of the practice.
Finally, unity among all the players should be emphasized to win the fight.