Human Rights

Cries Of Our Children: Child Marriage in Nigeria

I hear the several voices of Our CHILDREN crying, speaking, pleading, and whaling aloud, who can hear our voices? Who can see that we are vulnerable and protect us? Who can see that we are suffering, being exploited, subjected to labour, and being sexually harassed?

I hear some of them say, I was sexually abused while others say, I am a child but the breadwinner of the family. Before I could absorb the whaling, I hear others vent their pains saying, I was forced to get married as a baby while others cry saying I am subjected to severe torture.

Hearing these cries at this moment placed me in the most difficult state.  Then a little one said to me WE ARE ALL YOUR CHILDREN, some of us have been lost, others are still crying out to you while others may come to experience it all. So who can hear our cries and come to our aid for we are indeed vulnerable? Can you hear us? Can you?

Dear reader, these are OUR CHILDREN. They are calling out to us saying WE ARE YOUR CHILDREN. They are wondering if we can hear them and help them. Now I ask you, can we work together? I trust and believe we can synergize, yes! You and I can work together to help save our children. We can stand up to protect the right of our children. If we don’t do this, no one will. So, I welcome you on board this ship, lets sail together to protect the rights of the child.

This article will focus on the following cries of our children

  • Child marriage and Betrothal
  • Child Labour
  • Sexual Abuse

Child Marriage/Betrothal

Child Marriage/Betrothal refers to a marital union between a child and an adult or even a marital union between children. Child marriage is defined by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) as the union of an individual before the age of 18.

It is important to note that under Nigerian law a child is a person under 18 years.

It is important to amplify that child marriage is illegal in Nigeria and violates the Child Right Act (2003). It is also important to mention that a child’s right is a fundamental right that must be protected.  

The Federal Child Rights Act Adopted in Nigerian Law ban Child Marriage as required under the United Nations and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

Section 21-23 of the Child Right Act (2003) Provides thus:

21. No person under the age of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid marriage, and accordingly a marriage so contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever.

22, (1) No parent, guardian, or any other person shall betroth a child to any person

(2) A betrothal in contravention of Subsection (1) of this section is null and void.

23. A person

(a) who marries a child; or

(b) to whom a child is betrothed; or

(c) who promotes the marriage of a child; or

(d) who betroths a child commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000 (FIVE Hundred Thousand Naira) or imprisonment for a term of five years or to both such fine and imprisonment.

Article 21 (2) of the African Children’s Charter states:

Child marriage and betrothal of girls and boys shall be prohibited and effective action, including legislating, shall be taken to specify the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years and make registration of all marriages in an official registry compulsory.

Also, the protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Right of Women in Africa (African Women Protocol), which defines women to include girls, stipulates 18 years, as the minimum age of marriage for women. 

At this point I hear some of our crying children asking, why the practice of child marriage is still prevalent globally, in most African Countries, in Nigeria especially Northern Nigeria yet, we have laws prohibiting such?

Truly there are laws governing and prohibiting child marriage and ordinarily the sharp claws, blades, and teeth of our laws should act in the face of such evil meted out on children.

It is my opinion that the major reason why child marriage is still prevalent in Nigeria is because the Child Right Act is yet to be domesticated in the whole of Nigeria. Only some states adopted the bill and as such, we can clearly see that cases of child marriages arise mostly from the states that are yet to domesticate the laws and in this case the Northern Nigeria.


  • It ends childhood: Marriage is not for children and so when a child gets married; it deprives the child of the basics of childhood as some may drop out of school.
  • It affects a child’s mental and physical health, especially in situations of child pregnancy and birth.
  • It damages the psychology of children.
  • Leads to death in some cases.


  • Poverty
  • Illiteracy
  • Custom/Tradition
  • Conventions
  • Religion
  • Blatant disregard for laws

About Marilyn Upah Esq

Marilyn Upah, Esq., is a Legal Practitioner based in Abuja, Nigeria. She has a Penchant for Human Rights, especially Child Rights and the Rights of Persons Living with Disabilities, and has executed several projects across Nigeria to ensure that the rights of these persons are adequately protected. She an be reached via: