A Must Read: My Thoughts On ‘Child’ Marriage

July 20, 2013

Senate proceeding was about renunciation and not child marriage

Firstly, it is important to correct an outrageous error that spread as fast as bad news is known to, all over the Nigerian media and blogosphere. The senate proceedings on child marriage were actually not about child marriage. Section 29 is in respect to the right of a married lady no matter how young, to be empowered “of age,” to take important decisions like renunciation of her citizenship, if she so desires–to seek foreign asylum for instance. Being “of age” after a legal marriage is global legislative setting which proffers on the individual various rights and abilities to make decisions and choices to be respected by all parties and the state, as well as entitlements. Marriage must first have occurred legally, and the topic of marriage age and requirements is not covered under section 29 in view.

Age of marriage in America

The United States is by no means a standard for Nigeria’s legal decisions or considerations, however for a robust conversation, I will like to point out the ages of marriage in various states in America. In all states, to marry without parental and/or court consent, the minimal age is 18. But, with parental and in some cases, additional family court consent, the ages of marriage are rather interesting and will be a cause of grief for Nigerian senators and the media, no doubt: New York has the minimum being 14 years. North Carolina allows marriage at 14 years too. South Carolina sets it at 14 for females and 16 for males. And New Hampshire sets their minimum age of marriage at 13 years.

But it gets more interesting. In several states, there is actually no legal minimum age of marriage. Nigerians will say, ‘so you can marry at one year old?’ Yes, so it appears in the United States–with court approval, theoretically you can. Washington state, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Texas and Rhode Island states set no minimum age of marriage for Americans. Once you can get court approval, you can marry in these states, regardless of your biological age. This information is freely available online. This website carries it: http://www.usmarriagelaws.com/search/united_states/teen_marriage_laws/

Who is a child?

This is the next relevant question in this essay. The phrase, ‘child marriage,’ is notably unpleasant. So we will summarily discuss who a child is. There are two markers for the defining of who a child is.

Western/UN: According to the United Nations (UN), a child is “a human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”. Thus, the UN defines child based on the ‘age of majority,’ which is set by the state. Age of majority, as opposed to ‘minority,’ or being a minor, is an age limit set by countries usually ‘18,’ by which time minors have assumed the legal rights of adults.

Biological/Cultural: According to medical science and biology, as well as from a traditional and cultural perspective, an adult is anyone who has attained puberty. Puberty is defined as physical and social maturity, based on hormonal changes and their related effects on the individual. This is called ‘Biological adulthood.’

The day I hit puberty, I stopped being a child

As can be expected, Western/UN adulthood hardly ever corresponds with biological/traditional adulthood. One, the former is strictly based on years and does not consider the physical attributes of the individual, whereas the later, Biological adulthood, considers the attributes and development of the individual on a case basis. From an economic stand point, the former, Western/UN adulthood based on set age of majority, is more easy to regulate, as it will limit assessments needed to check individual by individual, the physiological and social maturity as the later demands. With this understanding, we get an insight into the rules of marriage in the United States. The approval for minors (children) is granted by a court which evaluates biological maturity, as these states in America do not subject themselves to the adult age regulations of the Western/UN maturity ‘age of majority.’

It is also important to mention at this stage, that the UN strictly in a big-brotherly manner, watches and criticizes developing nations who utilize similar methods as the United States does, not relying devotedly on the global UN recommended age of majority set point, simply because we, Africans for instance are not mature, and our health care system can not cope with nutrition related complications of biological maturity marriageability determination. This leads us to the next aspect:

VVF (Vesico-Vaginal Fistulae)

Does early marriage predispose to VVF? The surprising answer is no, not anymore than living in Russia causes rickets. Early marriage and pregnancy does not cause fistulas unless you are malnourished and in a third world country with poor health care. The United States is developed world leader in teen pregnancies. With up to 500,000 teen pregnancies per year and over 4000 pregnancies at age 12, the United States should have some of the highest VVF rates in the world, but not so. VVF is not a problem in America, this is because of nutrition and good health care. Consequently, the UN does not breathe down their necks. See: http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_tee_pre-health-teenage-pregnancy

VVF arises as a result of obstructed labor due to multiple causes, either due to Cephalo Pelvic Disproportion CPD (“the baby is too big and/or the pelvis too narrow”) or Malposition (“the baby comes the wrong way” – ex. transverse or oblique):

A study from Nigeria found that more than 30% of the fistula patients were younger than 16 years of age. These women usually have had just 1 pregnancy. In Ethiopia, more than 60% of the fistulas seen are a result of a woman’s first delivery.As mentioned previously, these women are usually isolated and have limited support. Another study from Nigeria found that 80% of fistula patients had been abandoned and 60% were divorced or separated. An overwhelming number of these women are uneducated. One report from Nigeria found that 99.4% of the fistula patients were illiterate. In another report of 1443 patients who underwent surgery for vesico-vaginal fistulas, only 3 had received any conventional education. As a result, these women maintain a subordinate position in society. They are often excluded from decision making, even decision making about their own health. As noted by Zacharin, “in an unequal world, these women are the most unequal among the unequal.”

Another factor is the lack of skilled obstetric providers in the developing world. It has been said that the incidence of obstetric fistulas is a direct indicator of quality obstetric care in an area. It is easy to understand that Ethiopia has one of the highest rates of obstetrical fistulas, considering the fact that there are more Ethiopian doctors in New York City than in Ethiopia. Source: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/455965_4

A very important study of Fistulas at the Aira fistula Hospital, in Ethiopia had this to say: Even if all marriages and first time pregnancies could be delayed until whatever age, even if malnutrition could be prevented and female circumcision eradicated, there would still be a lot of new fistula patients.

One has to focus on the fact that the one and only cause for a fistula is lack of competent nearby obstetrical service. Everything else is of no or minor importance. If only every woman in labor had access to obstetrical service, so that a caesarean section could be performed within four hours after the delivery gets complicated, there would be no fistulas occurring.

Ref CNN http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/09/14…ath/index.html
Yemeni girl, 12, dies in painful childbirth “Although the cause of her death was lack of medical care, the real case was the lack of education in Yemen and the fact that child marriages keep happening,” said Seyaj President Ahmed al-Qureshi.


Remember that some hundred years ago fistulas were as common in the west world as it is in Ethiopia today. Only when trained midwifes and hospitals with surgical service became generally available in the west world, the incidence of fistulas decreased, and is now unheard of.

Teen-age pregnancies are not very uncommon in the developed world, certainly not in the USA (where you even have religious sects practicing polygamy, child marriage and child pregnancies) but VVF/RVF are extremely rare due to the fact that good obstetrical service is at hand, and no obstructed labor goes unattended for a longer period.

Another important fact to keep in mind is that more than 50% of the fistula patients in Ethiopia are multipara (have already delivered one or more children), so it is certainly not exclusively young first time pregnants who are victims of VVF/RVF.

Any midwife who has seen a large third degree tear (a tear involving the rectum) in an otherwise normal delivery will understand that the soft tissues can never cause any major obstruction to delivery. The expelling forces are simply too powerful. That is why female circumcision, even in its most extreme form, is not related to fistula. Some years ago a Swedish gynecologist published her result of comparing the second stage (the time from start of pushing to the delivery of the child) in circumcised and uncircumcised women. Very surprisingly she found that the second stage was shorter in circumcised women!

Only when good obstetrical service is generally available, are fistulas prevented.

So we easily appreciate the problem in Africa. Poor health care, and postponing pregnancy is a quick and cheap fix to this serious problem. In rural areas, the prevalence rate is said to be higher due to inadequacy of facilities for pre and post-natal care. In such areas, long distances combined with high cost of care; ignorance and poor nutrition make women more vulnerable to VVF.

Causes of VVF could be direct or indirect:

Direct causes of VVF – The main and direct cause of VVF is ‘unrelieved’ obstructed labour. This means that in an ideal situation, where there are health facilities to prevent obstructed labour, and where pregnancy has been monitored during the course of at least 6 months before the onset of labour, the likelihood of obstructed labour is minimised. Other factors that influence the incidence of VVF include accidental surgical injury related to pregnancy, and crude attempts at induced abortion.

Surgical procedures that cause VVF are of two types. The first, orthodox medical accidental injury, which refers to injury caused to the bladder during surgical obstetric procedures performed within a formal/modern health care system, such as a hospital. Such procedures include Caesarean sections and difficult forceps deliveries.

The second are traditional procedures commonly employed during pregnancy and labour, and sometimes result not only to VVF, but also haemorrhage and sepsis. Examples include female genital mutilation (FGM), ‘Gishiri’ and ‘Angurya’ cuts.

In conclusion, fistula’s are related to young pregnancy due to social constraints, including poor nutrition, poor perinatal –cum– obstetric care and social abandonment, and not due to the ‘age factor,’ itself. If these confounders are resolved, there will be minimal to nil incidence of fistulas in the young. Due to the irresponsibility of our men, however, setting age limits and possibly even banning marriage altogether for some men is understandable.

Historical and Cultural perspective: Coming of Age

From a traditional point of view, there was never a magic bullet age (18) as obtains today– implemented by the colonial master. Traditionally in African and Judea-Christian cultures, at puberty a man or woman was deemed mature. However, to further protect the individual, certain social exercises were conducted to determine and prove the individual was ready for manhood, or womanhood as the case may be. This is called the ‘coming of age’ ceremony. It included strenuous tasks and contests the boy had to overcome, to become a man, and likewise the girl. Youth stood and endeared painful lashes of a cow tail, jumped bulls, climbed heights and jumped down and other rigorous tests to prove at puberty that the individual was ready to be a man or woman.

Westernization largely wiped away these traditional methods of adulthood determination. Coming of age ceremonies are native to all extremes of the world, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Korea, Taiwan, South Africa.

Biblically, the same are called the Bar and Bat Mitzvah for boys and girls. After completing the Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the Jewish child is now an adult man or woman.

In Christianity, though the exact age is not known, based on Jewish culture the age at which Mary had Jesus is put somewhere between 12-16 years.

The Protevangelion of James, a rare Biblical book from the ‘Lost gospels:’

CHAPTER 8: 2 And when she was twelve years old, there was a council of the priests, saying: Behold Mary is become twelve years old in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her ? lest she pollute the sanctuary of the Lord. And they said unto the high priest: Thou standest over the altar of the Lord. Enter in and pray concerning her: And whatsoever the Lord shall reveal to thee, that let us do.

CHAPTER 8: 1 And Joseph cast down his adze and ran to meet them, and when they were gathered together they went to the high priest and took their rods with them. And he took the rods of them all and went into the temple and prayed. And when he had finished the prayer he took the rods and went forth and gave them back to them: and there was no sign upon them. But Joseph received the last rod: and 1o, a dove came forth of the rod and flew upon the bead of Joseph. And the priest said unto Joseph: Unto thee hath it fallen to take the virgin of the Lord and keep her for thyself. 2 And Joseph refused, saying: I have sons, and I am an old man, but she is a girl: lest I became a laughing-stock to the children of Israel.

The Catholic encyclopedia supports this age estimate ( http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15464b.htm), Bible gateway, a popular Christian Biblical information source online also suggests this age range for the old Joseph and young Mary: http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Matt/When-Virgin-Gave-Birth

Considering the importance and advantage of coming of age, over UN dates. A person can be 19 and too immature to marry, whereas a 16 year old Fulani cattle rearer, may be so physically and socially mature and developed, delaying him will be meaningless and risky.

Coming of Age ceremonies around the world





“…Twenty years ago I consulted with elders about the meaning of the ‘coming-of-age’ ceremony. They said that the two-day ceremony was part of the 10-day harvest festivities. Rituals dedicated for men and women were separately held in two days during the festival. There was also a special ceremony to test if the young people were able and mature enough to become adults… whether they had experienced life in the forest and if they were able to form families and start careers. A cultural tradition was thus established….”










In Islam, sexual puberty is the delineating factor in marriage. Once a woman is biologically mature and the social experts determine her mature, with her consent and the consent of her parents, she can be married off. It must be pointed out that there is no forced marriage in Islam, the young lady must agree. Case to note in Islam is the report of the prophet marrying/being bethrothed to Aisha at age six, and the marriage being officiated at age 9–though the age is debated ( http://www.muslim.org/islam/aisha-age.htm). Though these ages can not be certified, what must be realized by Muslims and non Muslims alike is the condition in which the marriage was consummated. See: https://newsrescue.com/prophet-mohammed-of-islams-young-wife-aisha-was-mature/

Maturity of Aisha

Aisha stated of the occasion of her marriage:

The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl. We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became Allright, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a young girl.

What happened? – She lost her hair.
And what was the outcome- It rectified it self. Her hair re-grew!

It is self explanatory that the hair loss she made sure to mention in that hadith, served the purpose of informing that maturity was essential before man and woman can consummate.

Reversible hair-loss being a traditionally recognized sign of puberty.

Here is the modern medical assertion/confirmation of  pubertal hair loss-

“…Female hair loss can first show up at puberty. However, this may be due to normal hormonal changes and it invariably rectifies itself….” http://www.buzzle.com/articles/female-hairloss/

“..The very first signs of the effects of androgens on scalp hair growth occur soon after puberty, which is the stage in the human life when the reproductive organs reach maturity. In boys, puberty occurs around age 13. After puberty, the front hairline above the temples may recede. In some men, this may be as far as the balding process will develop…” http://www.ehealthmd.com/library/hairloss/HL_causes.html

“…When blood levels of androgen decrease during puberty, patterned hair loss may begin its pattern….” http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=73233
“…Female pattern hair loss may begin as early as puberty…”

It is important for those wishing to marry young girls or women at any age whatsoever to understand this feature of young marriage. Puberty must be attained and it must be determined and confirmed by social experts, parents, the court, maternity nurses. Islam does not allow a man simply picking up a young girl without such sincere verification of physio-social puberty.


Paraphilia’s are sexual perversions. According to the DSM statistical disorders manual, there are over 500 paraphilias. These include, wearing your wives panties, which is a disorder. Love of the elderly (Gerontophilia), Menophilia, menstrual sex. Nasophilia- love of noses. Foot fetishism- loving feet and the like. Homosexuality used to belong to this group of disorders, but in 1976 after a APA meeting it was liberated from this group. It is important to know that, though the common man loosely throws these names, these are all medical disorders requiring professional diagnosis. Ephebophilia is when an adult loves adolescents, 15-19. Hebephilia  is age-related love. Pedophilia is still included in this group of paraphilias and is defined as the recurrent exclusive sexual interest toward prepubescent children. It is a medical diagnosis as mentioned above and involves exclusive love and obsession with prepubescent children. If you have an old wife and add a young wife, you are not a pedophile because your interest is not exclusive. If you date or marry anyone post pubescent, you are not a pedophile, because the precondition for this diagnosis is love of sex with children pre-sexual/biological maturity/puberty. Key words- recurrent, exclusive and pre-puberty.

The challenges

Are there any advantages of early marriage? Medically there are some as well as disadvantages of delayed marriage and pregnancy. According to the US National Cancer Institute, early child birth, IE- the first child has been correlated with decreased risks of breast cancer. Getting the mammary tissue working, with full breast-feeding early helps to prevent it from developing breast cancerous properties. Source: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/reproductive-history You must breast feed for several months however after delivery, aborted pregnancies have the opposite effect, they lead to breast engorgement/tissue-lactation related changes and then if an abortion takes place, the ‘confused’ tissue is more susceptible to malignant transformation later in life.

The younger a woman has her first child, the lower her risk of developing breast cancer during her lifetime.

A woman who has her first child after the age of 35 has approximately twice the risk of developing breast cancer as a woman who has a child before age 20.

Additionally, the obvious exists, the increased risk of STD’s when a man or woman is delayed from marriage, while his or her hormones are shouting. We know all these, the hundreds of thousands of single parents and ‘illegitimate births’ in the western world is a testimony to the results of delayed marriage with the reality of hormones in youths. Abortions and the entire abortion debate is largely a complication of delayed adult life for western education purposes. We all want education for all, but what of where there is no chance of education, should our youth sit down doing nothing but having illegitimate, risky sex, waiting for their 18th birthday? Here we introduce a largely overlooked aspect of this discussion:

Right of the Child

What is the right of a child, yet unborn. Do we ever consider the rights of unborn children in these discussions? OK, with delayed marriage there is an upsurge in abortions. This must be considered in these discussions. In addition, delayed marriage as is manifest in the west, leads inevitably to single parenthood. Children born to parents out of wedlock. There are currently several programs in New York, by the state governor, intimidating the public with the negative social outcomes of single parenthood. Face it, at puberty, hormones are secreted and people want to have sex. What happens next? In the modern world, you have the sex, sometimes you use condoms and wait till you are 18. Many times women get pregnant and in USA for instance many women get HIV and die of AIDS, the most common killer of black American women between 25-34(http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/reproductive-history). In Africa, sex happens just as much and most resulting pregnancies are aborted. In America, the kids are born and these cheated infants are welcomed into the world, deprived of their rights of a functional family consisting of married father and mother. There are many social ills and social and educational disadvantages these children of single parents automatically face. These can be looked up online. Point is, we trade off one problem for another when we force higher marriage ages. And as society becomes more irresponsible, the age of majority is likely to be pushed higher, to 19, 20 maybe.

The choices

Will I prefer my daughter to decide–note she must decide–to marry an older man, or will I prefer her to delve into fornication, abortion and have children out of wedlock as is common today? I am not sure. Joseph was an old man when Mary was betrothed and wed to him. There are supposedly advantages from a human survivalist point, of older men marrying younger women. This study found: It turns out that older men chasing younger women contributes to human longevity and the survival of the species, according to new findings by researchers at Stanford and the University of California-Santa Barbara. Read more at http://scienceblog.com/14203/old-men-chasing-young-women Importantly, we must always be reasonable and abide by the laws of the society to which we belong. Children are born not to be abandoned to destitution or sold. Wives are not property, bought or sold, but partners to be loved, adored, respected and cared for. Divorced women, abandoned sick women with fistula’s and other such conditions are a shame to us and ways we incur the wrath of God. Without our religious and social responsibility, I dare say that we loose our privilege to marry as a whole, talk less, take young brides. There are many problems in this world and different ways to tackle them. This paper was written because of the obvious inflated obsession in Nigeria with this particular problem.

Article by Dr. Peregrino Brimah; the views are of the author and do not represent the views of NewsRescue