Should we Keep this Quiet? Print Media and Child Marriage in Nigeria
Nwaolikpe Onyinyechi Nancy *
Babcock University, Ilishan Remo-Ogun State, Nigeria
- *Corresponding Author:
- Nwaolikpe Onyinyechi Nancy,PhD
Ilishan Remo-Ogun State
Received date: Aug 18, 2018; Accepted date: Aug 25, 2018; Published date: Sep 4, 2018
Citation: Nancy NO. Should we Keep this Quiet? Print Media and Child Marriage in Nigeria. Global Media Journal 2018, 16:31.
Copyright:© 2018 Nancy NO. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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Child marriage is an issue that has become a scourge to some girl-children in Nigeria. These girls are unaware of the consequences of this act on their health and wellbeing. The Child Rights Act which was passed in Nigeria in 2003 puts the age of marriage at 18 years old, but sometimes in Nigeria girls are married off before their 18th birthday and most times, they are faced with a lot of health challenges which could be curbed through effective information, education and communication. The study examined the print media report of child marriage in Nigeria and looked at the theme of reportage of child marriage in the print media and how the newspapers presented stories about child marriage. The study employed the agenda setting and media framing theories, and content analysed two Nigerian newspapers from 2013 to 2016. The study explored the prominence given to the coverage of child marriage, the dominant themes covered on child marriage and the framing of child marriage by the newspapers. Findings showed that there has not been enough focus on child marriage in Nigeria and that some of the news stories did not explain in details the implications and consequences of child marriage to the Nigerian girl-child. The study therefore recommended that the print media should put more effort in educating the masses on the issue of child marriage.
Agenda setting; Child marriage; Child rights
act; Girl-child; Print media
Newspapers play the traditional role of educating the
masses and setting agenda for public action. News coverage
can have a strong influence on how the public will respond to
societal issues. Child marriage as a global issue involves the
giving out to marriage a child who is not mentally,
psychologically, emotionally or physically prepared for a
marital life to an older man who most times has children same
age as the girl bride. It is a human rights violation that denies
girls their rights to health, education, equality, free from violation and exploitation. Okafor and Oyakhiromen  citing
United Nations see child marriage as “any marriage carried out
below the age of eighteen (18) years before the girl is
physically, psychologically, and psychologically ready to
shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and child bearing”. A
child who is a minor does not consent to marriage decision
about a life partner. Maharjan et al.  opine that “Child
marriage is a product of cultures that devalue women and girls
and discriminate against them”, and it is also a “gross violation
of human rights and a barrier to girls health and social wellbeing”
. Poverty, poor educational attainment, and strong
social and religious traditions are drivers of child marriage in
Nigeria. Child marriage is mostly prevalent in Northern Nigeria.
The child when married assumes the role of a wife, daughterin-
law, mother and housekeeper. She is deprived of education,
and any chance of her developing her own personality and
UNICEF’s report on child marriage in 2006, rates is that 43%
of girls are married off before their 18th birthday, while 17% of
the girls are married off before they turn 15. UNICEF 
reports that, “Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive
today were married as children. More than 1 in 3 – or some
250 million – were married before 15”. According to UNICEF
 rates of child marriage are highest in sub-saharan Africa
across the globe, around 4 in 10 girls marry before age 18;
about one in eight were married or in union before age 15
also, West and Central Africa have the highest percentage
(42%) of women aged 20 to 24 years who were first married or
in union before age 15 and after age 15 but before age 18.
UNICEF  report further states that globally about one in
seven adolescents and girls (aged 15 to 19) are currently
married or in union, while West and Central Africa have the
highest proportion of married adolescents (27%).
Girls that are married before they are eighteen years pose
the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS because of unprotected sex
with their spouse who is older and might have other sexual
partners. Child marriage threaten girls’ lives and health, and it
limits the girl-childs’ future prospects. These girls are
disempowered and suffer so many illnesses . According to
Malhotra  “Girls who marry young are at a higher risk of
dying during childbirth, having their child die before its first
birthday, contracting AIDS and becoming a victim of domestic
violence”. The girls could easily fall prey to maternal/infant mortality, and are susceptible to health condition such as
Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF), and other pregnancy issues.
Since 1959, issues such as human rights, health matters,
immorality, ethics, culture, social stigma and others related to
children’s rights have been in focus with the declaration of the
Rights of the Child by the United Nation in 1989. In 2003,
Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act to domesticate the
convention on the rights of child; although, the Child’s Right
Act was adopted in Nigeria, issues related to children’s right
(child abuse, child labour, child trafficking) still occur in Nigeria.
There was heightened discussions on child marriage in 2013 in
Nigeria because of the attempt by the Senate to change
section 29, sub section 4 of the Nigerian constitution legalising
the marriageable age of a Nigerian girl to 18. This study
therefore looked at the coverage of this issue by the print
media during this heightened period and after it. The study
tried to answer these questions: are the media raising
awareness among members of the public – parents, teachers,
religious leaders, and the government? are they talking about
the consequences in the newspapers in order to eradicate
child marriage? Should the issue of child marriage be talked
about in the media?
Statement of the Problem
Child marriage is a life-threatening and life-changing reality
that has affected and is still affecting girls globally. It spans the
globe, and is a practice that is more religious and traditional.
Girls are forced to trade their childhood for adulthood, they
trade their youth for a life of diseases (VVF, HIV/AIDS, RVF etc.)
and loneliness and their voices are unheard. In 2007 UNICEF
reported that more than 60 million girls aged 20-24 globally
had married before their 18th birthday . Child marriage is
one of the problems faced by the girl child in Nigeria. Girls are
given to marriage without their consent before their 18th
birthday. They made to face the devastating effect of child
marriage. According to Malhotra  “girls who marry young
are at a higher risk of dying during childbirth, having their child
die before its first birthday, contracting AIDS and becoming a
victim of domestic violence”. The mass media according to
Raufu  “…should aim at creating a climate for change by
inducing new values, attitudes and modes of behaviour which
favour and are capable of aiding modernization”.
Communication through broadcast, print media and other
forms of media educate, and shape opinions of the public.
Communication as a process of disseminating and exchanging
information to others can be used to deliver information to
the public through the mass media. It is in view of this, that
the study sought to investigate the coverage of child marriage
in the Nigerian newspapers, how the newspapers reported the
issues and what should be done on this issue that is more
traditional and religious.
• What is the prominence given to the coverage of child
marriage issues in the newspapers?
• How did the newspapers frame child marriage stories?
• What are the dominant themes covered on child marriage
in the newspapers?
The media inform the public, matters relating to their health
and warn them against any danger. Dominick  notes that,
“newspapers perform the watchdog role in our society… They
alert the public to possible threats and new trends”. Readers
use the newspaper to get information about and
interpretation of public affairs, it serves as tools for daily living
and for social contact (from human interest stories and advice
columns). Newspapers help shape readers understanding of
themselves and their world. Newspapers tell readers what is
significant and meaningful through their placement of stories
in and on their pages .
Macnamara  is of the opinion that the roles of the
media vary widely around the world, in a number of
developing countries such as in South East Asia, the media
perform a role described as ‘agent of development’. He goes
on to say that the role the media perform relates to the
political system and state of development of the country. The
media therefore help in the development of a country -
socially, economically and politically. “The media play a crucial
role in most countries in spreading information” . The
media are channels by which social changes are given direction
and impetus. “They have become a dominant source of
definitions and images of social reality for individuals, but also
collectively for groups and societies; they express values and
normative judgments inextricably mixed with news and
Child Marriage in Nigeria
Marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of
human rights. There are many factors that interact to place a
girl at risk of marriage, these includes; poverty, the perception
that marriage will provide ‘protection’, family honour, social
norms, customary or religious laws that condone the practice,
an inadequate legislative framework and the state of a
country’s civil registration system. Child marriage often
compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early
pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting a girl-child’s
schooling, limiting her opportunities for career and vocational
advancement and placing her at increased risk of domestic
violence. Child marriage in Nigeria is centered on religious and
cultural norms. There is a cultural and religious belief that
when a girl-child commenced menstrual period, she is fully
matured for marriage and should be married off to preserve
her virginity. According to Fayokun , “it is believed that
early marriage for a girl child maximizes her childbearing
potential”. Erulkar and Bello  were of the opinion that the
basis for acceptance of early marriages in the northern parts of
Nigeria in particular is to preserve the value of virginity, fears
about pre-marital sexual activity, reduction of promiscuity of
the girl-child and other socio-cultural and religious norms.
Erulkar and Bello  in their study found out that most of the
girl-child fathers or parents are instrumental in making arrangements for their marriage and that their grandmothers
and the prospective husbands also get involved. Some of these
girls readily accept the marriage arrangements while others do
In 2003, Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act to domesticate
the convention on the rights of child. The Child Rights Act
defines a child as a person who has not attained the age of
eighteen (18) years. According to Akinlami , the 2003
Child’s Rights Act main objective is to provide and protect the
rights of the Nigerian children; and other related issues.
Section 21 of the Child Rights Act states that, “No person
under the age of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid
marriage, and accordingly, a marriage so contracted is null and
void of no effect whatsoever” (Policy and Legal Advocacy
Centre, 2003, Part III). Section 22 also states that,
• No parent, guardian or any other person shall betroth a
child to any person; and
• A betrothal in contravention of subsection (I) of this
section is null and void (Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre,
2003, Part III).
The Child Right Act further states in section 23 criminalizing
child marriage that, “A person –
• who married a child;
• to whom a child is betrothed;
• who promotes the marriage of a child; or
• who betroths a child,
commits an offence and is liable on conviction of a fine of
500,000 naira or imprisonment for a term of five years or both
such fine and imprisonment”. (Policy and Legal Advocacy
Centre, 2003, Part III). In 2013, Nigerian senators attempted to
change section 29, sub section 4 of the Nigerian constitution
to legalize the marriageable age of a Nigerian girl to 18, but it
was opposed by some segments in Nigeria. The amendment
was stepped down but these generated discussions in the
media – both the social media and the traditional media. The
issue of child marriage which is seen as a fundamental
violation of human rights was considered a national issue by
the Federal Government of Nigeria who set up a Technical
Working Group on Ending Child Marriage which was formed at
the end of 2015 and spearheaded by the Ministry of Women
Affairs and Social Development. Also in May 2015, the
Violence against Persons Prohibition Act was adopted to
address the issue of female genital mutilation and other
harmful traditional practices such as child marriage.
The theoretical framework for this study lies in the gate
keeping theory and media framing theory. This is based on the
fact that the media determines the information to transmit;
screening, shaping, modifying and editing news in order to
come out with good news. The information they disseminate
shapes the public, influences the society and therefore play
major role in changing the risky behavior and attitudes of
readers. The gate-keeping theory was propounded by Kurt
Lewin in 1947. The theory has been widely used as a metaphor to describe the process by which selections are made in media
works, especially decisions regarding, whether or not, to allow
a particular news report to pass through the gates of a news
medium into the news channels . Gate-keeping is not only
accepting and rejecting information but involves other things –
modifying, editing, and shaping news stories. A gatekeeper is
any person (or group) who has control over what material
eventually reaches the public. Each day, editors and news
directors – the gatekeepers in news media systems decide
which items to pass and which to reject. McCombs and Shaw
in the 1970’s looked at the effect of gatekeepers’ decisions and
found out that the audience learns how much importance to
attach to a news item from the emphasis the media place on
it. Gatekeepers in the newspapers decide on information to
pass across to the public, thereby educating the public on
certain issues deem important and relevant.
Media framing theory by Goffman Erving 1974 is closely
related to agenda setting theory, both focuses on how the
media draw the public’s eye to specific topics by setting
agenda for such issues. Framing shows the ways in which the
news presented creates a frame for those specific topics.
Arthur  citing Nisbet 2007, p. 12 opine that frames are,
“Schemata of interpretation that allow individuals to ‘locate,
perceive, identify, and label’ issues, events, and topics”. Arthur
 further states that “Framing helps the audience
understands a topic in the short term, and also gives them a
way to think about the topic that they can draw on later when
thinking about the topic in the future”. The media in framing
stories, focuses attention on certain events and places them in
order for the public to derive meaning and knowledge of those
issues, they identify information, classify them and
disseminate them to the public.
The study spans through a period of three years from
2013-2016, a period of heightened discussion of child marriage
in Nigeria caused by the aborted amendment of the Nigerian
constitution on the right age for marriage. Stratified sampling
technique was used to stratify each of the sample years into
quarters, while four months were picked from each quarter in
the year under study using the simple random technique
(ballot method). In 2013, the months of March, June, and
November were picked making a total of 91 copies of
newspaper editions including weekend copies, in 2014,
February, May and December were picked and the number of
copies considered were 90 while in 2015, January, June and
November were picked, making a total of 91 editions of the
newspaper. On the whole, the total in number of newspaper
editions considered in the two newspapers was 544 editions –
a total of five hundred and forty four newspaper editions
constituted the sample size for this study. Coding guide and
coding sheet were used to obtain data. The units of analysis
which are the contents to be examined in the newspapers
selected were categorized indicating, the prominence of
coverage which covered frequency of coverage and the story
placement of child marriage issues. This involved the number
of times the issue was mentioned in a particular copy of the newspaper studied; story placement was further categorized
as front page, centered page and back page. Framing of the
news stories was categorized as episodic framing (an
individual’s experience) and thematic framing (within a large
societal context). Dominant issues covered were categorized as
consequences, traditional/cultural and child/human rights
Data Presentation and Analysis
Research question one: What is the
prominence given to the coverage of child
marriage issues in the newspapers?
Table 1 shows a breakdown of frequency distribution of the
selected Newspapers coverage of child marriage issues in
Nigeria from 2013 to 2015. The Guardian Newspaper has a
total no of 36 (48%) news studies during the period under
study while Punch Newspaper has 39 (52%) news stories. Total
number of reports in the two newspapers under study during
the period under investigation is 75 (100%). It is evident from
the findings that Punch newspaper devoted more space in the
coverage of child marriage issues in Nigeria between 2013 and
2015, and that news stories on child marriage were not
Table 1: Distribution of news stories according to newspapers.
Distribution showing prominence of coverage
in the two newspapers
The placement of news stories by the newspapers on child
marriage issues between 2013 and 2015 shows that 57 (76%)
of the stories were reported as news stories placed in back
page. Eleven news stories representing 14.6% of the news
stories were placed in center spread page while 7 (9.3%) news
stories were placed on the front page. This shows that stories
on child marriage were reported more on the back pages of
the newspapers ( Table 2).
Table 2: Story placement.
|Centre Spread Page
Research question two: What How did the
newspapers frame child marriage stories?
Table 3 shows the way child marriage news stories are
framed in the newspapers. Episodic framing explains the
framing of child marriage issues from an individual’s
experience and thematic framing explains the framing of child
marriage issues within a large societal context. The total
number of news stories framed as episodic in the two
newspapers was 44 (58.6%) while as thematic was 31 (41.3%).
This implies that stories framed as individual’s experience was
higher than stories framed within the societal context.
Table 3: Story Framing.
Research question three: What are the
dominant themes covered on child marriage in
Table 4 shows that the dominant theme on child marriage in
the newspapers was centered on the traditional/cultural issues
surrounding child marriage in the Guardian and Punch
newspapers, which were 39 (52%) news stories. Stories on
consequences of child marriage, which centered on different
consequences ranging from health, psychological, social and
mental consequences was 29 (368.6%) news stories while
stories about child marriage on it being a child/human rights
issue was 7 (9.3%) news stories. This implies that traditional/
cultural issues about child marriage were more prominent in
Table 4: Dominant themes covered on child marriage by the two newspapers.
Discussion and Results
Findings from the study showed that the mass media have
not really covered the issue of child marriage adequately; the
study found out that the mass media are somehow keeping
quiet to the issue of child marriage since the coverage is
sparse. The total number of the news stories covered on child
marriage in the Nigeria two newspapers in three years
reflected the low priority accorded the issue. This indicates
that the issue is not yet considered an issue for sustainable
development by the Nigeria press. It should have more
coverage in the dailies than what the newspapers covered in
the period of study. Significant proposition of the stories were
on individual experiences and not on the view of the
government for societal consumption. Front page and the
center page were the least covered in the two newspapers.
There is a gap in the coverage of child marriage issue in the
pages that draw attention from the readers. News in back
pages are normally consumed in a hurry and may have less
impact in the readers. Readers may tend to read only the lead
paragraphs in the front pages and centered pages. The child
marriage issues were presented more in less conspicuous
positions which might be overlooked by the readers. The
stories were not covered more on the editorials and opinion
pages. It shows the lack of interests of the newspapers on this
issue, since editorial are the opinions of the newspapers. It
would be helpful if newspapers once in a while, write
editorials on some aspects of the campaign. Focus should be
given to issues on how to prevent and control child marriage
and also on the modes and causes of transmission of child
marriage. The dominant theme on child marriage in the
newspapers studied centered more on the traditional/cultural
issues surrounding child marriage rather than on the
consequences of child marriage and it being a human rights
issue. Generally, the print media have not fully done well in
the coverage of child marriage issues in Nigeria.
Child marriage is a human rights violation that denies girls
their rights to health, education, equality, free from violation
and exploitation. It involves both the girl child and boys but
more prevalent with the girl-child. The study has shown that
the mass media have not done enough in disseminating
information about child marriage which would have helped to
sensitize the public on the consequences of this issue and help
to end it which will be key to achieving Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) of poverty, gender equality, health,
education, nutrition and economic growth.
• The following are the recommendations based on the
findings of this study:
• The mass media should support awareness–raising of child
marriage by constantly reporting the issue
• There should be public education programmes about the
negative effects of child marriage to help change attitudes
and strengthen duties of parents, guardians, and the
community to protect these girls.
• State governments should endeavor to empower the girlchild
by giving her adequate education
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