Historical researches aimed at improving sexual and reproductive health of adolescents in Nigeria have focused on unmarried girls and boys. This can be partly attributed to the assumption that male and female adolescents are unmarried and solely responsible for risky sexual behaviour and unwanted pregnancies.
However, there is a wide prevalence of early marriages in Nigeria. Nationwide, 19% of girls were married by age 15, and 43% by age 182 (2003, NDHS). The proportions of married teenagers are much higher in the northern regions being highest in the North West and North East regions where the proportions of married teenage girls (15-19) are 73% and 59% respectively (2003 NDHS).
In the northern regions, girls enter marriage (and begin their sexual experience) when they are young, sometimes as young as 10 years. The young girls are usually married to older men chosen for them by their parents (NPC and UNICEF, 2001). The problem of early marriage in northern Nigeria is significant. For one, the North lags behind the rest of the country in the trend, largely associated with education, towards delaying age of marriage. Females in the North West and North East are marrying on average more than five years earlier than those in the southern states where women are better educated. The sheer size of northern adolescent women who are bearing children is yet another compelling reason for focusing on the sexual and reproductive health of married adolescents in northern Nigeria. Adolescent women from the North East and the North West make up 42% of total number of Nigerian adolescent women aged 15-19 and they contribute an estimated 71% of the annual births by Nigerians in the 15-19 age group (Singh, S. et al, 2004). High teenage fertility is a major contributory factor to persistently high Total Fertility Rate and Nigeria’s rapid population growth.
Third and more important reason for focusing on northern, married adolescents are the negative consequences of early marriage which include heightened risks of pregnancy-related morbidity and mortality, gross violation of their human rights and, several social challenges such as missed opportunity for education and participation in gainful employment.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, PART I, Article 1, 1989, a child is a noun that refers to daughter or son or a prepubescent person, or a minor. Prepubescent refers to the time before the age at which a person is first capable of sexual reproduction (www.wiktionary.com, 2010), while a minor is a person who is below the legal age of responsibility or accountability (www.wiktionary.com, 2010). According to (Weisenberg, Michael 2000), a marriage is the union of two people, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. Another definition of marriage as defined by http://www.dictionary.com states that marriage as “the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc” The above definitions clearly suggest that a child is person that is not meant to take total responsibility for him or herself and should be cared for and protected. Now, taking the definitions of marriage into consideration, a child is not a person that is ready to make such a commitment because he or she will not understand fully the implications and is denied the opportunity of preparing adequately for how he or she would like to handle that kind of commitment. Child marriage usually refers to two separate social phenomena which are practised in some societies. The first and more widespread practice is that of marrying a young child (generally defined as below the age of fifteen) to an adult. Due to women's shorter reproductive life period (relative to men's), perhaps, the practice of child marriage tends to be of young girls to fully-grown men. The...