This week’s Unreported World reveals the devastating effects of child marriage and pregnancy in Nigeria, where nearly half of all girls in the country’s northern states are married by the age of 15, often to much older men.

Reporter Ramita Navai and director Julie Noon travel to Nigeria to investigate why there has been resistance to outlawing child marriage and what it has meant for thousands of young girls.

Nigeria has one of the highest rates of child marriage and pregnancy in the world and the federal government has tried to ban marriage under the age of 18 by passing the Child Rights Act in 2003. However, five years later, only one northern state has adopted the act and even then replaced the age of 18 with “puberty”.

The team’s journey begins at a village in Kano State on the wedding day of one young bride. Her friends tells Navai that it’s traditional for girls to get married from the age of 12 and start having babies. But her friends reveal the devastating consequences of having babies at such a young age, with mothers whose bodies are physically incapable of going through childbirth suffering horrible injuries and being left physically and emotionally scarred for life. In many cases, their child also dies.

Navai and Noon move on to Katsina State to visit one of the world’s largest clinics dealing with one of the most severe consequences of child pregnancy, fistula. Dr Kees tells Unreported World that hundreds of thousands of women suffer from the condition. If nothing is done for them they are left crippled medically, socially and mentally for life. Often left incontinent, they are ostracised and alienated from their husbands and society. Navai talks to Zulai, who breaks down as she describes having fistula twice and losing six babies. Her condition is so severe that she may be inoperable and have to carry a catheter for the rest of her life.

Fistula isn’t the only medical condition the girls face. The team visits a charity in Kano city that helps divorcees and discovers that young married females are at much higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDs from their older, polygamous husbands.

Unreported World also reveals that many girls fleeing early marriage end up working in brothels. The team visits a sex district where most of the prostitutes have run away from forced marriages. One, Hadiza, tells Navai how she was made to marry when she was 15 years old and then fled after he brutally raped her.

In some villages the team travels to, half the men have lost young wives and sisters in pregnancy and childbirth. Yet, despite this, there is considerable opposition to implementing the law banning child marriage in northern Nigeria. In Kaduna state the team speak to one cleric who tells Navai that Northern Nigeria will never accept a law stipulating a minimum age for marriage, as child marriage is permissible in Islam and that there would be violent uprisings should an attempt be made to enforce it.

Program on CHANNEL 4 NEWS– Friday 28 November 2008 7:35pm

Source: Unreported World 26 November 2008