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OPINION: Climate change is increasing poverty. Marrying off girls isn’t the solution

by Aisha Saleh | Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection
Monday, 27 September 2021 10:15 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A girl looks back as she leaves her school in Kano, Nigeria February 18, 2019 . REUTERS/Luc Gnago

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As climate change effects drive up child marriage, I educate parents in Nigeria against marrying off their daughters and explain the implications of underage unions

I grew up in a slum community popularly known as Monkey Village in the Opebi area of Lagos State, Nigeria. The only road that leads to the area has been damaged by erosion and flooding. And whenever it rains, our homes get flooded, I’m unable to go to school, we can’t move around the community and we’re forced to stay in our flooded makeshift homes.

If my community were to experience incessant flooding linked to climate change and my parents considered moving out to another location but couldn’t afford it, they could decide to marry me off, get a bride price from an older suitor and use the money or resources to generate revenue for themselves. The decision is also seen as a means of survival when families’ livelihoods are impacted, because once a girl is married off, the parents have one less mouth to feed.

This link between the two issues in Nigeria is emerging, yet for some years now NGOs have alerted to the situation, and investigations by journalists illustrate how climate change is driving up child marriage, including in Bangladesh, Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique.

To prevent this from happening, I educate parents against marrying off their daughters. It’s imperative to speak with the parents because they are the ones who insist on marrying their children off, even if the children resist.

I explain to them the implications of child marriage, such as the girls dropping out of school to work in the home and that, once married, they are at higher risk of sexual and physical abuse, and even death during childbirth, which is the main cause of death among teenage girls in developing countries.

I also talk to them about my own achievements in school as a young girl and how education has helped me. I speak five languages, I skipped two grades at primary school, I attend a grammar school and I’m often top in my class, I was previously awarded a scholarship by the Women’s Helping Hands Initiative in Lagos and I’m currently enrolled in a scholarship programme for girls run by the Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE).

I explain all this to the parents because they do not value education in my community. It’s not their fault; it reflects their own experiences. I ask them how they would feel if it were their daughter(s) who achieved all this - and it’s a strategy that usually works.

Many of them have enrolled their daughters in public schools within the neighbourhood. Even though my community was demolished and we now all are scattered around, I still see some of the girls coming to school, because we attend the same one. ​

In some cases, girls themselves might propose to their parents that they get married. I’ve seen this happen outside of my community, and it was because the girl in question wasn’t aware of an alternative.

I also talk to children in Monkey Village about their human rights, including their right to education. The children also see me as a role model and want to emulate me, so it was easy to persuade them that education is a solution.

Unfortunately the situation may get worse before it gets better because of climate change. My country, for instance, has seen increases in temperature since the 1980s; rainfall is variable; there’s more drought, desertification and land degradation; and fresh water sources are increasingly dwindling. All this puts pressure on families to find food and water, which can push some to make harsh choices in order to have fewer mouths to feed, such as marrying off a child.

That’s why the conversations I have are key. What’s needed is a change in mentality.

If parents no longer see their daughters as a solution to their woes and challenges in life, they won’t think about marrying them off.

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