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What Is the Prevalence Rate of Child Marriages in Nigeria? 

  • According to the 2018 Multi Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS, 2018) Nigeria is home to over 23 million child brides; 2 in 5 young women were married in childhood. 3% of boys in Nigeria are married before the age of 18
  • The North West and North Eastern part of Nigeria have the highest prevalence of child brides at 68% and 57% respectively. 
  • World Bank/ICRW estimates that Nigeria could raise its GDP (earnings and productivity) by a additional USD 7.6 billion if child marriage was stopped. 

What drives child marriages in Nigeria 

In Nigeria, child marriage is also exacerbated by: 

  • Prolonged Armed Conflict resulting into displacement and violence against girls

Nigeria has been plagued with long standing instability and conflict that’s spilled over across the West and Central African region, as well as armed clashes between the national army and armed rebel groups such as the Boko Haram who are linked to ISIL and Al Qaeda. These clashes have resulted into hostile conditions for the population especially increasing the risk of girls to child marriage: 

  • Violence against girls and women: a major tactic of this warfare is the widespread abductions of girls, rape and defilement of girls and marrying them off to rebels to both disempower and disorganise communities. In particular , the Boko Haram rebel group  justifies the marrying of abducted girls to their members as protection from pre-marital sex and teenage pregnancies. Parents have been killed by rebel groups for protesting marriage of their daughters. 
  • Displacement: More than 7.7 million people fleeing from armed conflict need humanitarian assistance in North East Nigeria. Displacement has resulted in disruption of major social systems like health and education. In displaced settings in Nigeria, poverty is at its highest as well as limited access to education and health services, which is further compounded by famine. Families therefore living in refugee and internally displaced camps find themselves in desperate situations and resort to marrying off their daughters for financial relief and to “protect their daughters from increased violence from armed conflict.  
  • Poverty
  • Child marriage prevails in 77% of Nigeria’s poorest households compared to 8% of the richest households (Chart 1 above, MICS 2018). 
  • Girls are frequently married off as a way to lessen the economic burden for their families. 
  • Level of education: 

 80% of Nigerian women with no formal education were married before 18, compared to only 8% who had completed higher education (Chart 2 below, MICS 2018)

Further education is almost impossible for some girls, who have little choice but to depend on their husbands for the rest of their lives.

  • Harmful traditional and religious practices
  • “Prepubescent” marriage is very common in Nigeria. A girl is first married, and the man is expected not to touch her until she reaches puberty. Some Nigerian men reportedly prefer to marry children. Girls are not accepted as equal partners within marriages, which contributes to a sense of low self-worth.
  • Religion: Religion has been found to be a supportive frame for persistent cultural traditions that justify child marriage in Nigeria. There are strict religious taboos regarding female sexuality and purity, and preachers argue that under Islamic doctrines girls’ maturity for marriage is defined by physical appearance and menstruation.

What is the minimum legal framework around marriage 

  • Under the Marriage Act 1990 the minimum legal age of marriage 21 years for girls and boys, although they are able to marry before this with written consent from a parent or guardian.
  • Under the Child Rights Act 2003, the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years. However, out of 36 Nigerian States, there were still 12 (11 of which are in the north of the country) that have not included the Child’s Rights Act 2003 in their internal legislation. It follows that in those States local laws are applied, most of which are Islamic Law provisions, and the minimum age of marriage in some of those States is as low as 12 years. In 2013, the government stated that efforts have been made to sensitise states about the Child Rights Act in order to improve enforcement.
  • There is also a lack of harmonisation between the Child Rights Act 2003 which sets 18 years as the minimum age of marriage and the Sexual Offences Bill 2015 which sets the minimum age of sexual consent at 11 years.

What national and international conventions and commitments has Nigeria signed to End Child Marriage 

  • Nigeria has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. During its Voluntary National Review at the 2017 High Level Political Forum, the government noted that most states in the North of the country manage a cash transfer programme aimed at reducing girls’ school dropout rates due to early marriage.
  • Nigeria co-sponsored the 2018 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage. Nigeria also signed a joint statement at the 2014 Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.
  • Nigeria ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
  • In 2001 Nigeria ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage. In 2004 Nigeria ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, including Article 6 which sets the minimum age for marriage as 18.
  • In 2013, the UN Child Rights Committee expressed concern about the extremely high rate of child marriage among girls in Northern states. It urged the government to undertake awareness-raising programmes on the negative implications of child marriage among parents, state parliamentarians and traditional and religious leaders.
  • In 2017, the CEDAW Committee expressed concerns about the prevalence of child marriage in Nigeria. The Committee recommended Nigeria to:
  • Take effective measures to prohibit and eliminate child marriage, including through awareness-raising efforts and by prosecuting and punishing perpetrators and accomplices;
  • Ensure that the Child Rights Act of 2003, which sets the legal age of marriage at 18 years for both women and men, is applied throughout the country;
  • Amend the sections of the Constitution and the Criminal Code which legitimise child marriage.
  • The CEDAW Committee also expressed concerns about the significant number of girls who were abducted by Boko Haram from Chibok and Damasak in Borno State in April and November 2014, respectively, who have not been rescued and continue to be subjected to rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and impregnation by insurgents.
  • During its 2013 Universal Periodic Review, Nigeria supported recommendations to address child marriage by putting in place legislation clarifying the legal age for marriage. During its 2018 Universal Periodic Review, Nigeria agreed to review recommendations to intensify actions to end child marriage, including by ensuring that the 2017–2021 National Strategy to End Child Marriage and the Child Rights Act are fully implemented in all states.
  • In 2015, Commonwealth countries (including Nigeria) adopted the Kigali Declaration, which sets out a framework for action by National Human Rights Institutions on child marriage.
  • In 2016, Nigeria launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.
  • As a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in 2017 Nigeria adopted the Strategic Framework for Strengthening National Child Protection Systems under which protecting children from marriage is a priority. In June 2019, the ECOWAS Heads of State endorsed the ECOWAS Child Policy and Strategic Action Plan and the 2019-2030 Roadmap on prevention and response to child marriage.
  • In addition, in July 2019, the ECOWAS First Ladies signed “The Niamey Declaration: Call to End Child Marriage and to promote the Education and empowerment of Girls”, calling Member States to initiate legislative, institutional and budgetary reforms to implement the Roadmap.
  • In 2019, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, Nigeria committed to achieve zero gender-based violence and harmful practices against women, girls and youth and implement the National Strategic Plan to end Child Marriage and the Act on Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) at all levels.
  • Nigeria is implementing the Spotlight Initiative (a global, multi-year partnership between European Union and United Nations) which seeks to end all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls.
  • Nigeria is one of the countries where the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/DREAMS Initiative is working to reduce rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women.
  • Nigeria is a pathfinder country for the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children and partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

What is the government doing to end child marriages? 

  • In 2016 the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development launched a National Strategy to End Child Marriage. The strategy’s vision is to reduce child marriage by 40% by 2020 and end the practice entirely by 2030. The strategy aims to, among others, change harmful cultural norms and support community programs that increase access to girls’ education and provide young women with economic opportunities.
  • A Technical Working Group on Ending Child Marriage was formed at the end of 2015. The Group is composed of over 30 members, including UN agencies and Girls Not Brides members, and aims to raise awareness, encourage behaviour change and monitor and evaluate laws and policies.
  • At the Conference on the Social Protection of the Girl Child organised by ActionAid Nigeria in 2016, the Emir of Kano announced he would bring in renowned Islamic Clerics from all over the world to discuss this issue at an international conference.


  1. Action Aid Nigeria, Conference on the Social Protection of the Girl Child, , 2016
  2. African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, 2018, 
  3. African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, [website], 2018, 
  4. African Union, Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa: Call to Action, 2013, 
  5. Allen and Oluwatomipe, Health Implication of Child Marriage in North-East Nigeria, 2017
  6. Council of Foreign Relations, Boko Haram in Nigeria, [website], 2020, 
  7. ECOWAS, ECOWAS First Ladies affirm Commitment to End Child Marriage and Promote Girl-Child Education in the Region, [website], 2019,  
  8. ECOWAS, Final Communique. Fifty-fifth Ordinary Session of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, 2019.
  9. European Commission, Nigeria, [website], 2020, .
  10. Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, NATIONAL STRATEGY TO END CHILD MARRIAGE IN NIGERIA (2016-2021), 2016,  .
  11. Federal Republic of Nigeria, Implementation of the SDGs A National Voluntary Review, 2017, 
  12. Girls Not Brides, Child Marriage in Humanitarian Settings, 2017, .
  13. Girls Not Brides, CONTROVERSY IN NIGERIA OVER MINIMUM AGE OF MARRIAGE, [website], 2013,  .
  14. Global Partnership for Education, Nigeria,
  15. Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, Nigeria, 
  16. Human Rights Watch, Ending Child Marriage: Meeting the Global Development Goals’ Promise to Girls, [website], 2016, 
  17. Nairobi Summit Nigeria Commits to, [website], 2019, 
  18. National Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF, Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2016-17, Survey Findings Report, 2017, 
  19. National Population Commission (NPC) and ICF, Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2018, 2019, 
  20. New York Times, Child, Bride, Mother: Nigeria, [website], 2017
  21. OCHA, Nigeria, [website], 2020, 
  22. Plan International, Adolescent Girls in Crisis: Voices from The Lake Chad Basin, 2018, 
  23. Spotlight Initiative, Nigeria, [website],  
  24. The Commonwealth, Kigali Declaration Moving from aspiration to action to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage in the Commonwealth, 2015, 
  25. U.S. Department of State, United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, [website], 2019 .
  26. UN CEDAW, Concluding observations on the combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of Nigeria, 2017, p.5, 7, 8, 10, 15, 16, 
  27. UN General Assembly, Compilation prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with paragraph 15 (b) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 and paragraph 5 of the annex to Council resolution 16/21 Nigeria, 2013, p.9, 
  28. UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Nigeria, 2013, p.19, 
  29. United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, 

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