Not a few Muslims were unhappy with the recent statement credited to the Minister for women affairs, Hajiya Aisha Alhassan, that Islamic laws are the reason child marriages can’t be challenged in Nigeria. It is erroneous to believe that Islam is entirely for child marriages. For one, Islam is not categorical about when a girl child should be married. It can be early, as soon as she reaches puberty or late, when she is in her thirties or even forties these days.

There are no clearcut laws saying when the girl-child must be married off in Islam, and this is why some of the most educated Muslim females in Northern Nigeria today, are daughters or granddaughters of renowned Muslim scholars, who should be at the vanguard of early marriage, if that were the Islamic ideal.

In truth, early marriage for girls is a cultural tradition. Numerous cultures around the world, which have nothing to do with Islam, have had this practice for centuries. The Islamic position is the most flexible because in it parents have the right to marry their girls off at puberty or allow them to grow to whatever stage in life they feel comfortable with.

Just because we want to implement all the provisions of the Child Rights Act, which pegs a girl’s marriage age at 18, should not make us blind to human reality. This reality, which Islam recognises and therefore allows for, is that some children mature early and can be ready for the demands of marriage and parenthood if they are exposed to it at that stage. Therefore to insist that such girls or their parents must wait till a government-appointed age is to expose them to some undesirable circumstances.

Countless girls, in non-Muslim communities around us, get pregnant out of wedlock and have their babies in early teenage. Why is it not an issue that such girls are mothers below the age of 18? Even the advanced countries of the world which are behind the provisions of the Child Rights Act keep breeding these underaged mothers year in, year out. Indeed the youngest mothers in the world today, at 11 years and just below 11 are an American and a British girl respectively. So what can they say against the flexible system provided by Islam?

Some medical practitioners claim that girls below 18 are so not ready for motherhood that they end up getting VVF and similar complications. If this were true, how come the teeming teenagers getting children out wedlock are not getting VVF? The celebrated case of Ese Oruru is a good example. The Bayelsan girl, as we all know, ran away to Kano to elope with her young boyfriend Yunusa Yellow. Her parents insisted she was only 14 at the time she went to Kano. A year later, Ese became a mother. From all the reports we read about Ese’s childbirth, she had a safe delivery, not hampered in any way by the fact that she was only fifteen years old.

Like broadminded medical doctors argued, age is not always the factor in women contracting VVF at child birth. It is prolonged labour compounded by lack of medical facilities nearby. The first VVF patient I met got the condition during her fifth delivery. If it was a case totally related to early marriage, Malama Zainab wouldn’t have had four successful deliveries before she contracted the disease.

Minister, Aisha Alhassan, was quoted as saying that Islam-based marriage laws define the marriage age for women, as such they constitute a major setback to the attainment of the 18-and-above age limit. ‘This is why you can’t convict anybody or challenge anybody marrying off their child.’ My advice to Her Excellency, the minister, is to worry more about providing healthcare to women in rural areas and all over the country, to help them combat childbirth related diseases as well as infant and maternal mortality, conditions which aren’t always related to early marriages.

If she expends all her energy on how to jail or fine fathers who married off their daughters before the age of 18, what will she do about fathers whose underaged daughters got pregnant and delivered out of wedlock? Because this is also the reality of our times. Or should the punishment be reserved only for parents who lawfully and honorably gave out their daughters in marriage? Haba Hajiya Minister!

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