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The truth about early marriage

Written by Josephine Agbonkhese & Anino Aganbi
~Vanguard - Nigeria,  Friday, March 11, 2016

ALMOST everyone in the neighbourhood admired Mariam Adamu (not real names). Her fair-complexion, height and extremely beautiful figure would pass for an international model anytime. Her seven-year-old child seemed a photocopy of her too.

21-year-old Mariam had just moved in with her husband into the neighboured, from a neighbouring city. Hence, neighbours knew practically nothing about her outside her near-goddess beauty.

It wasn't until a couple of years later when her husband took a second wife with whom he later relocated, that the cynosure of all eyes became the centre of real pity; Mariam had been living in unimaginable emotional trauma but was sensible enough to cover-up.
She was living with Vesico Vagina Fistula, VVF, an abnormal fistulous tract extending between the bladder(vesico) and the vagina that allows the involuntary leakage of urine from the vagina. She developed this at childbirth. Her disappointed husband obviously couldn't bear it anymore than abandon her for at least a healthier woman! Poor Mariam died the following year from lack of care.

Victim of early marriage

What tragic end for another unfortunate victim of early marriage! No fewer than 800,000 women in Nigeria, basically for reasons such as Mariam's, suffer from VVF annually in Nigeria, according to a 2015 report by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, UNFPA.

Also known as child marriage, early marriage, a common phenomenon in some parts of Nigeria, refers to either a formal or informal union entered into by an individual who is less than 18.

There's been a whole lot of controversy surrounding child marriage in Nigeria, with some endorsing it on the basis of religion even as the 1999 Constitution Section 49 4(b) remains confused about it after stymied attempts at its deletion by the senate. Notwithstanding, statistics and background checks on victims of child marriage identify socio-economic factors as major drivers.

Whatever the reason is for giving out a minor in marriage, the sour end of majority of these girls proves that the disadvantages certainly override every possible benefit it might accrue- whether to victims, their immediate families and the larger society.

Biological aspect

"Generally speaking, teenagers make very poor mothers. Their judgement is poor and their skills at caring for newborns are hardly as good as that of adults. Biologically too, until the age of 18, a woman's pelvic bone is still developing and may not be easy for a baby to pass through.
So, even though one who is less than 18 can carry a pregnancy to full term as she has started menstruation, she may have obstructed labour when it comes to child delivery because the pelvis is not yet big enough for the baby to pass through. Therefore, a woman is not biologically fit for marriage until 18," a Lagos-based Gynaecologist, Dr. Lemadoro Steven, told Woman's Own.

Obstructed labour, Lemadoro explained, could result in VVF, lead to neuronal injury resulting in obstetric palsy thus making it difficult for her to walk or stand for life, with VVF also leaving her with a whole gamut of problems such as urine leakage, irregular menstruation, infertility, and much more.

Though VVF can be corrected surgically, it is not uncommon to have such surgeries fail repeatedly, thereby leaving the woman emotionally shattered.
"So, my verdict is: marriage and pregnancy are a dangerous venture for any woman less than 18," Dr Lemadoro said.

Psychosocial aspect

There seems plenty of psychosocial no-no to it too.
As another medical practitioner, Dr. Abayomi Adesuyi, puts it, psychologically, a girl under 18 is not ready for marriage. Hence, when the inability to meet up with the accompanying demands of marriage overwhelms her, the reaction of people around her begins to affect her psyche, making her withdrawn as she feels a failure.
"Early marriage could make a teenage girl emotionally imbalanced. This could lead to depression, especially if she isn't enjoying such marriage. Such people also factor in high mortality rate.

"On the other hand, girls who engage in early marriage appear unkempt as they are not properly balanced. This could make them appear much older than they actually are because they are not even looking further than having their children and taking care of their homes," Dr. Abayomi told Woman's Own.

Cervical cancer risk

Starting sex at a young age, science has also revealed, can factor heavily in diseases such as cancer of the cervix; a cancer caused by the abnormal growth of cells in the cervix, with the ability to spread to other parts of the body.
Corroborating this, Dr. Abayomi said: "When a child is exposed to sex at a very tender age, the tendency of having multiple sex partners is there and the risk of having cervical cancer is high. In paediatric medicine, engaging a minor in sex is labeled 'child abuse'.

Socio-economic consequences

The disadvantages of early marriage also goes beyond health, says Professor of Guidance and Counselling, Mrs Mopelola Omoegun, Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Lagos.
"A woman needs to be mature physically, emotionally and economically before going into marriage. Emotionally, she may find it impossible to cope when there is a quarrel between her and the husband; she starts crying and running back home.
"Her social circle will undergo set back because she becomes a misfit among her age mates who aren't married and among mature married women who find her too young for their circle.

"Economically of course also, she will be at a disadvantage because she probably has not completed her secondary school education, isn't working and will therefore depend on the husband for every single thing.

"Above all, she will find it difficult raising her children properly because she herself still needs training- and of course, she can't give what she doesn't have. Hence, you are likely to find children of such mums becoming problems to the society, unless there are family members willing to help out. Generally, the effect of early marriage on the society can be grave and enormous," Prof Omoegun said.

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