Implications of Early Marriage on girl’s education in Northern Nigeria: Options for policy making


Nigeria has the largest population of any African country, some 162.5 million people. Of this number, 49% are female; some 80.2 million girls and women, hence the need for policy makers to pay attention to the situation of women in the country. Therefore, any discussion about Nigeria’s future must necessarily entail consideration of girls and women, the roles they play and the barriers they face in crafting the future.

In 1990, the World Conference on Education for All (EFA) identified improving access to quality education for girls and women as “the most urgent priority” (Kyari and Ayodele, 2014:583). More than one hundred countries re-affirmed this at the April 2000 Dakar World Education Forum; ‘ensuring that by 2015 all children, with special emphasis on girls, have access to and complete a primary education of good quality’ (Kyari and Ayodele, 2014:583). At this meeting (the Dakar World Education Forum), the United Nations Secretary- General, Kofi Annan, launched the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI). In an unprecedented step, 13 UN entities, led by UNICEF agreed to work together on this 10-year initiative to help governments meet their commitments to ensure quality education for all girls globally. It was generally agreed that:

“discrimination against the girl-child and the violation of the rights of the girlchild, which often result in less access for girls to education, nutrition and physical and mental health care and in girls enjoying fewer of the rights, opportunities and benefits of childhood and adolescence than boys and often being subjected to various forms of cultural, social, sexual and economic exploitation and to violence and harmful practices, such as female infanticide, rape, incest, early marriage, forced marriage, prenatal sex selection and female genital mutilation.”

The resolution also reiterates the commitments to undertake legal reforms to ensure the rights of girls, to provide for equal access to basic social services (such as education, nutrition, vaccination, and health care, including sexual and reproductive health care), to enact and enforce legislation against all forms of violence and exploitation and to protect girls affected by armed conflict. Till date however, girls, the world over, still suffer from sex engendered denial and discrimination in most aspects of life. But of all the discrimination and denial of opportunities that the girl child suffered, perhaps the most damaging is the denial of the rights and opportunity to education.

There are enormous social and economic gains which accrue to the individual girl, her family and the society as a result of her education (Collins, 2014; Idoko, 2010). The high costs associated with the lack of education have been well documented (Oniye, 2008; Oladipo, 2007). It is the lack of access to education which keeps girls and women “not only at the bottom of the social power structure but may perceive themselves and their future roles as sex objects, subservient to men and trapped in, rather than choosing, traditional roles” (Friedman,  1992). Apart from the moral question of equality of opportunity, a growing body of evidence suggests that providing equal access to education, and specifically providing education to girls, is good economics, because it makes labour markets more efficient, enhances growth rates and helps reduce social disparities (Morrison, Raju and Sinha, 2007; Aromolaran, 2008: 397-428), which ultimately defines what  constitutes abuse of women/girls or not, type of employment, and when and not to marry.

Evolution and Evaluation of Education Policies in Nigeria so far

With regard to women’s education, the evolution of education policies in Nigeria since the 1980s shows some clear patterns. Table 1 summarises some of the key initiatives. One key policy trend is the distinct shift towards mainly free universal education, especially for primary and early secondary education. In 1999, the Federal Government launched the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Program making it compulsory for every child to receive nine years tuition free education. The policy stipulates that education shall be free and compulsory and this shall include adult and non-formal educational programmes at primary and junior secondary school levels for both adults and out-of-school youths. The UBE, therefore, has three main components: universal, basic, and education. Importantly, the UBE forms the basis upon which MDG-2 has been implemented in Nigeria since 2005.

The government also established the Education for All (EFA) Unit within the Federal Ministry of Education to facilitate the development of the EFA plan for Nigeria. In 2003, the Government prepared the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), a major national and multi-sectoral reform program that sees educational reforms ...


Professor of Political Science & International Relations
Public Sector Group
Social & Governance Policy Research Department
NISER, Ojoo Ibadan
Dr. Mrs. Yetunde A. Aluko
Social and Governance Policy Research Department,
NISER, Ibadan

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