Panellists at the National Children’s Day Dialogue, organised on 27 May 2021 by the Women in Successful Careers (WISCAR), a not-for-profit, for-impact organization focused on empowering women to contribute to the growth and development of Nigeria and indeed Africa, have highlighted ways to address the dwindling gains made in the campaign against child marriage in Nigeria.
The dialogue themed, “Climate Change and COVID: New Drivers of Child Marriage in Nigeria and the Way Forward” was hosted in partnership with the SAGE Innovation Centre, an international non-profit initiative committed to mitigating climate change and its related effect on both people and planet and Neem Foundation, a leading crises response organisation committed to promoting the protection and wellbeing of population and communities affected by conflict, violence and fragility.
The panellists who lent their expert knowledge to the discussion, included Patience Ekeoba, National Programmes Officer, UN Women Nigeria; Professor Mustapha Hussein Ismail, Director, Centre for Human Rights in Islam; Nazanin Alakija, Founder of Sage Innovation Centre; Minoe Dwamwan, Programmes Officer at NEEM Foundation; and Olamide Akin-Alabi, a young lawyer and child rights advocate.
Some of the measures listed by these distinguished panellists to curb the upward trend of the incidence of child marriages include convening platforms to enable new voices and male allies into the discourse to chart a way forward, investing in girls and empowering them to do better in life thereby reducing the need for early marriage, broad stakeholder engagement of religious and cultural leaders on the effects of early marriage, and the ratification of the Child Rights Act as law in the various states yet to ratify the act.
Others are synergising the various laws that govern child marriage in line with the Child Rights Act, declaration of 18 years as the minimum age for a legal marriage, and the awareness creation of the impacts of COVID-19 and climate change and to regress progress.
In her opening remarks, the Founder and Chairperson of WISCAR, Amina Oyagbola, stated that,
“While declining numbers of child marriages and resulting increases in the average marriage age around the world reflect the success of strategies implemented to eliminate the practice, by attacking the root causes like poverty, cultural traditions, religious and social pressures, new drivers are emerging which are reversing this progress”.
She noted that, as part of WISCAR’s advocacy against the elimination of all forms of discrimination and inequity against women and girls, the group has continued to campaign against child marriage which it commenced in 2018, emphasizing that the future of Woman in Successful Career starts with the girl child, her access to opportunities and a chance to have a fair and future-proof start in life.
Also speaking at the event, the Executive Director of WISCAR, Fabia Ogunmekan, emphasized the need to create a safe learning environment for children. According to her,
“We can only truly celebrate Children’s Day when all our children are healthy, their well-being are protected and catered for and when they have unfettered access to safe primary and secondary school education”.
She informed that the group decided to mark this year’s National Children’s Day by continuing the conversation on child marriage and its new drivers which include COVID-19 and climate change.
The group noted that the collaboration between WISCAR, SAGE Innovation Centre and Neem Foundation presents an opportunity for the organizations to scale their impact as they continue to make a difference in society and in the lives of women in Nigeria and on the continent. WISCAR, now in its 13th year, has impacted over 10,000 women and men through its structured mentoring programmes, various open series programmes, conferences, and its continued advocacy for more women in leadership for a more inclusive, equitable and diverse world.
A key highlight of the event was the opportunity to hear from two survivors of child marriage who shared their experiences of early marriage with the audience.