Nigeria: Presidential aide moves against child marriage

Mrs Maryam Uwais, the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Special Protection Plan

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Mrs. Maryam Uwais, the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Special Protection Plan, says addressing child marriage will reduce the high burden of Vesico Vaginal Fistula, (VVF) in Nigeria.

Uwais, who is also a gender activist, said it was urgent as Nigeria has a global VVF prevalence of 40 percent.

According to her, child marriage can also lead to sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, premature birth and death during childbirth.

She said that VVF occurred when a tear occurs between the birth canal and rectum or bladder, leaving a woman unable to restrain natural discharges or evacuations of urine, feces or both.

“Child marriage, which is a marriage before the age of 18, increases the chances of VVF, because the pelvic of such girl who married early is too narrow to allow a baby to pass through it. At that early age, girls bodies are still developing and they know little about their rights or their sexual and reproductive health. They are physically and emotionally not ready to give birth; child brides face higher risks of death in childbirth and are particularly vulnerable to pregnancy-related injuries such as obstetric fistula,’’ she said.

She said that Nigeria has 40 percent VVF global prevalence correlating to early childbirth due to the high percentage of under-16 girls who are victims.

“It is estimated that 400, 000 to 800,000 girls are living with Obstetric Fistula with about 12,000 to 20,000 fresh cases being reported every year. We have only 12 existing surgical repair centers in the country and they can only handle 4,000 cases annually. So, for every year, we have a backlog of 16,000 girls who may not be able to access professional healthcare. If you go into the VVF hospitals, you will find that at least 65 to 70 percent of the victims are young girls,’’ Uwais said.

The gender activist said that child marriage had been recognized as a violation of child rights.

“It is a direct form of discrimination against the girl-child who is deprived of her rights to health, education, development and sometimes even to survival,’’ Uwais said.

She said that misconception of religion and poverty had continued to fuel the practice in spite of its strong association with adverse reproductive health outcomes and the lack of education.

Uwais said that there was a need to boost education and information on sexual and reproductive health to prevent teenage pregnancy and promote girls’ rights.

“If we address child marriage, we are able to at least, clear that number and reduce the burden of VVF in the country,’’ she said.
– Bilkisu Pai I VON