#ChildNotBride: Let Our Girls Dream Big!

Child-Not-Bride

Written by Kome Olori Agulonu

I will never forget the day I told my parents I wanted to study theatre arts at university. With all the flare of a drama-queen, I told them how I did not want to be a doctor or an accountant like my father nor did I want to be a lawyer-just in case they were hoping. Instead I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to spend my days at university practising dialogue or critiquing movies/plays. In my young mind, I had it down par. I would write my stories and sell them to producers who measured up to my standards. Better still, I would write, direct and act in my own movies- Stephanie Okereke’s style.

As I went on about what I wanted my future to be like, I was elated. I could see what no one else and certainly not my dumbstruck parents could see, In fact, I was in heaven just from imagining how rich and famous I would be.

Now to my parents, the uncles and aunts who heard about my future ambition, I was queer. It was ‘youthful exuberance’ that was causing my lack of focus, my dad said those years ago. Secretly he must have thanked his stars that I am hopeless at drawing and couldn’t have added artist or illustrator to my list of ‘unserious’ pastimes. Who would employ me, where would I work after a degree in arts? Oh! I would surely starve in a country like Nigeria!

The drama dragged on for many weeks until I accepted defeat; I had no one in my corner plus no money to my name. Anyway, I couldn’t win. So I agreed to study Accounting and Taxation. Four years later, I was a graduate and today, I boast of my ‘mad’ excel skills and joyfully spend my leisure time writing but I have never forgotten what happened.

Recently, in light of the change in current legislation regarding legal age of marriage, in Nigeria, I have had time to think, to ponder and eventually to be thankful. I did not spend four years practising dialogue but I got an education: Education that has guaranteed I am capable of many things- dialogue being one of the many.

I have come to realise how privileged I am to be educated. I now count myself lucky to have had parents who willingly invested in my future. They used their hard-earned money to make sure, that I became someone that they could respect. What a joy it has been for me that I finished my education, worked for a while and then chose to marry. No one pressured or pestered me in any way.

I have followed the debates which have arisen as a result of what constitutes full age and how a woman married is deemed to be of full age. I strongly believe that marrying off a young girl before she reaches adulthood is a sacrilege. It is an inhumane proposition but truly I am not nearly as bothered about the government and whatever legalities they put in place, as long as it does not become a punishable offense if a girl is unmarried at 12!

What I am worried about though is what kind of parent would want to marry a child off to someone old enough to be her father? Which mother (especially if she suffered the same fate) would want her daughter to be a mother before her 14th or 15th birthday? Have these people not heard about VVF and everything else that could go wrong in an under developed body? Now, what about her future? What kind of life would an uneducated, unenlightened, illiterate woman have in future Nigeria? What knowledge would she pass to her unborn children?

I for one would have called for enlightenment outreach programmes to educate parents on the dangers of underage marriage except that I am unforgiving and would rather to see all parents (who as much as whisper about it in their minds) and the potential ‘sugar- granddaddy’ husbands in jail for a very long time.

Dear readers, what reason(s) would motivate you to give your young daughter away in marriage before adulthood? What do you think is the right age for ladies to start getting married and what is the age limit of the suitors she should have?

Are there ladies, or even men who believe they got married too early? We would love to hear about your experience of marriage.

Also, what do you think the way forward is with regards to this issue?
I remain grateful that I had the time to play with teddy bears, to be in cliques at school, to wear a graduation gown, to have my heart broken before I had to marry anyone. More importantly, I am thankful that I ever had a choice in anything-even the ones I let go of.

What are you most grateful for?

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