In northern Nigeria, according to the Population Council, 45% of girls are married by the age of 15, and 73% by the age of 18. Most marriages are arranged by the family to men who are on average 12 years older than their wives. Girls are brought up to believe it leads to freedom, independence, but the sacrifice is education and real independence.
Kano is an ancient city in northern Nigeria, the second largest in Nigeria. There is a high divorce rate here, where a new bride is considered a status symbol, adding to the vulnerability of the young wives. A girl can be divorced by the age of 18 and have children to support. "The way you change a car is the way you change a wife in Kano. You give birth to a few children and you can find yourself divorced for the slightest excuse," says Salamatu Da'u, a worker with a Nigerian AIDS service organisation, the Society for Family Health.
So they find themselves with limited education but having to earn in income. Inevitably this leads to menial jobs, but can also lead the way to sex work in a region where condom use is very low. Kano itself has an HIV/Aids rate that is below the national average, but among the brothel based sex workers in the city, this rises to 49.1%. These sex workers were also least likely to use condoms with their customers, and had limited understanding of how to prevent HIV transmission. Almost all the women working in the brothels had either been divorced or had run away to avoid being forced into marriage.
Northern Nigeria is very conservative, where discussion about sex is less open and literacy is low. The Society for Family Health workers are encouraging traditional leaders to promote the use of condoms. Some have, others lend silent support, but there is a long way to go, and so many different but inter-relating strands. to the problem.