Another case of child marriage has happened within our shores. Fourteen- year-old Ese Oruru was abducted by an acquaintance of her parents and forced into a sexual relationship that she was not psychologically and emotional fit for.
The practice of child marriage, which simply means matrimony before age 18, continues to disproportionately affect girls in certain cultures and communities in Nigeria in spite of its significant consequences to children’s mental and emotional health.
According to Consultant gynaecologist, Dr. Tunde Ashaolu, a teenager like Ese, who is forced into having sex at an early age may experience obstetric challenges ranging from cervical cancer to frequent miscarriages later in life.
Ashaolu estimates that at least four out of 10 cases of cervical cancer in women are found to have occurred in females who were initiated into sex before the age of 15.
He believes the culture of child marriage that thrives in the country is the reason why Nigeria has the highest number of women dying of cervical cancer in Africa.
“About 26 women die of cervical cancer each day. This is high and unacceptable. But it should be expected. Cervical cancer is prevalent in women who had their first and subsequent frequent intercourse between nine and fourteen years. This is a common occurrence in Nigeria.
“We have many teenagers below 14 years who have had more than two kids. Their reproductive organs are more vulnerable to Human Papilloma Virus, which is transmitted through sex during this period.”
Ashaolu adds that child brides are more likely to suffer miscarriages and maternal injuries and the likelihood of giving birth to stillborn and premature babies is higher in pregnant adolescents.
“A 14-year-old is not likely to go to the hospital when she sees something wrong with her reproductive system. She is not likely to eat the right foods, she will probably be malnourished.
“If she gets pregnant in that state, it is likely that she will not carry the baby to term and, if she does, the baby will be sickly. All of these are one among the reasons why a teenager should not be forced into physical or sexual relationship she is not prepared for .”
Early child marriage and VVF
A general medical practitioner, Dr. Patrick Okolie, says early child marriage exposes young girls to Vesico Vagina Fistula.
Okolie defines VVF as an abnormal fistulous tract extending between the bladder and the vagina, which allows continuous and involuntary discharge of urine into the vaginal vault.
He explains that the condition is one of the two common obstetric fistulas that are found among young women in developing countries like Nigeria.
Okolie states, “It is generally associated with early childbirth and marriage, which are more common in the some states. The average age of occurrence of VVF in Nigeria, especially in the Northern part of the country, is about 11 years to 15.”
According to the doctor, the condition is responsible for the high rate of divorce in some of these places where young women suffering from vesico vagina fistula are victimised.
Child brides may suffer PTSD
Consultant Paediatrician, Rotimi Adesanya, notes that there is a direct link between early marriage and a child’s mental heath.
Adesanya explains that persons who have been abducted and forced into similar marital relationships may suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
He notes that they will experience recurrent nightmares of the incidents that led to their abduction and such experiences could lead to serious health challenges such as insomnia, depression, anxiety and, in severe cases, memory loss or suicide.
He said, “Most of them will deprive themselves of food just to rebel against their abductor. They will have a lot of anger welling up in them constantly. Most of them will be passing through post-traumatic stress disorder. They will suffer insomnia; they won’t be able to sleep most nights due to anxiety. They will have nightmares of the horrors of their kidnap and of what they see while living with their abductors.
“They will experience fright episodes, break down and suffer memory loss just to escape the pain. Their state of physical, mental and social health has been compromised.”
Counsel her for a year
Consultant psychiatrist, Dr. Adeoye Oyewole, recommends that when Ese is released, she should be rehabilitated by a psychologist for up to a year.
Adeoye said, “Such a girl should get a comprehensive clinical evaluation from a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, and social workers to check acute psychiatric manifestation in her behaviour.
“She will need clergymen who will counsel her through the healing process. The parents must be rehabilitated too because they have also been traumatised.
“They are supposed to be the pillar of support for the girls but the mental torture they have gone through may not allow that. They must also be evaluated at least for six months.”