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It’s Never Your Fault: The Young Women Fighting To #RaiseTheAge For Child Marriage In Nigeria

It’s Never Your Fault: The Young Women Fighting To #RaiseTheAge For Child Marriage In Nigeria

A 70-year-old man got married to a 15-year-old girl in Niger state in December of last year, and the photos of the union sparked outrage on social media. Around the same time, three teen girls met for the first time at a career workshop organized by a local NGO centered around the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As young women themselves, Kudirat Abiola, Temitayo Asuni, and Susan Ubogu decided to work towards the fifth Sustainable Development Goal, which is to achieve gender equality. It was a timely, relevant aim, something they all felt needed to be achieved after hearing stories of child brides in their home country of Nigeria.

According to UNICEF, Nigeria has the third-highest rate of child marriage globally, with almost 44% of girls being married before their 18th birthday and a staggering 18% being married before the age of 15. Stories of young child brides being forced into marriages are common. It’s not a situation restricted to Nigeria, in fact, UNICEF points out that 38% of young women in Sub-Saharan Africa married before the age of 18 while 650,000,000 women alive today got married as a child. It’s not a practice confined to Africa either. Globally, there are 12 million girls married before the age of 18. Child marriage is any formal or informal union between people where one or both persons are under 18 years of age. These marriages are often associated with inequality and power imbalances as well as health issues. To understand the full extent of child brides, it’s easier to state things simply; around the world that’s 23 girls every single minute or 1 girl every 2 seconds.

Kudirat Abiola (Credit: CNN)
Susan Ubogu (Credit: CNN)
Temitayo Asuni (Credit: CNN)

With such a challenge on hand, the three girls realized the only way to tackle it would be to change their constitution. And so, their non-profit Its Never Your Fault was established in 2018. It was a way to campaign for change, raise awareness, and give a voice to girls who couldn’t speak for themselves. From their platform, they began a #RaiseTheAge petition to try and prompt the government to amend the constitution. They are proactive in their fight against injustice, figuring that if they don’t do it who will?

“We went on to check what the constitution says about child marriage, and we found out that section 29 (4b) of the Nigerian constitution says that “any young woman who is married is deemed to be of full age.” Section 21 of the 2003 Child Rights Act, however, contradicts this. It  says, “a person under the age of 18 is incapable of contracting a valid marriage. If such a marriage does take place, it should be declared null and void and of no effect.”  

– Its Never Your Fault

Since the constitution is the highest order in the land, it negates the Child’s Right Act, which essentially means that anyone married below 18 is automatically considered to be an adult. The trio’s #RaiseTheAge petition is all about educating people on the issue of child marriage and shining a light on the negative effects of the union for the victims. The hope is that their petition will collect enough signatures to send a bill to the National Assembly in Nigeria to be able to make a constitutional amendment to hopefully pass the bill into law to legally ban child marriages.

(Credit: Its Never Your Fault)

It’s Never Your Fault aims to reduce gender inequality and empower young girls in Nigeria. They address more than child marriage, they also tackle societal taboos and stigma associated with women who have suffered from rape, sexual harassment, child abuse, and issues with social justice. Low self-esteem and shame often follow girls who have suffered from these, especially when they are asked questions about what time they were out and what they were wearing. Kudirat, Temitayo, and Susan dedicate their organization to these girls, as a constant reminder “to victims of these tragic events that whatever happens, it’s never their fault”.

This is, in many ways, easier said than done. There are those in Nigeria that support their fight for gender equality, but there are also many who believe that their fight is one against culture and tradition. There has been a flood of hate mail ranging from unfortunate comments on social media to discouraging emails, and at one point their Twitter account was even shut down. But the three young women try and meet it in stride, using the opportunity to try and educate the individual instead of retaliating.

There are those in the Nigerian government that supports them and their fight. Nigeria has been working towards banning child marriages, and in 2013, a bill was almost passed that would officially ban the practice. It has signed and supported several international declarations and treaties discouraging child marriages from an African Union Campaign back in 2016 to UN statements for human rights. The country’s goal is to completely eradicate child and forced marriages by 2030. It’s in line with Kudirat, Temitayo, and Susan’s aims, but they’re hoping change comes a little faster.

The trio does realize, however, that their fight is far from over. They’re still organizing workshops on gender equality and partnering with Nigerian celebrities to raise awareness. On a larger scale, their future goals include working with the victims of social injustice by finding ways to rehabilitate and reintegrate these women back into society. And perhaps most importantly, the trio aims to host workshops and programs that empower as well as educate them. They also plan to mentor other young teen girls and spread awareness.

To support them in their fight for gender equality in Nigeria, sign their #RaiseTheAge petition.

By Raramai Campbell
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