Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics of Nigeria (SOGON) has called on the National Assembly to pass a bill that outright spells out the "age of 18 and over as the age of maturity, consent and marriage," if the country is to consolidate gains made in women's health.
SOGON said the under-age marriage controversy sparked when the legislature failed to get a two-third majority to back the definition of maturity as age 18, has national and international outcry that cloud the struggle to improve reproductive health and sexual rights of women.
"Whatever misunderstanding the Senate has inadvertently enlisted from the public can only be corrected by this same body enacting a bill and passing it without further delay that will outrightly spell out the age of 18 and over as the age of maturity/consent and marriage so that all these can be put behind us," said SOGON president Dr Fred Achem at a press briefing in Abuja.
He said under-age marriage came with socio-cultural impediments that deny women access to health facilities, education and empowerment.
"Under-age marriage is a sure recipe for early truncating of girl child education, denying her the resultant privileges for a safer and more efficient reproductive carrier," said Achem.
He said it created optimal conditions for vesico-vaginal fistula and complications "with scenarios of impaired recovery or poor recovery, leaving such victims with major scars if they survive and dispose them to destitution, neglect and abandonment by husbands who in the name of culture/religion choose to marry and impregnate under-age children."
The chances of stillbirths and immediate infant deaths due to asphyxia (suffocation) associated with prolonged, obstructed labour also increase with under-age pregnancies.
Girls pregnant before age 18 have four times higher risk of dying than girls pregnant after age 18, according to Dr Tunde Segun, country coordinator for Evidence for Action.
He said the Nigerian public and its lawmakers must use modern, scientific methods of assessing maturity.