Nigeria and the Girl child bride: Culture, Constitution and Religion

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August 6, 2013 By Mary Ajoke Akangbe

Nigeria as Country needs no introduction. It has been called among other names   “The Giant of Africa”. Literarily I would take this to mean it is a Country that others look up to for various reasons, at least to some extent.

Surprisingly though, we tend to take one step forward and ten backwards especially on handling issues relating to human rights.

So was the situation a few weeks ago, which led to worldwide outcry and protests regarding child marriages and age of consent.

Child marriage: is the act or practice of marrying a young girl, defined generally below the age of fifteen to an adult male. In as much as this is neither new nor alien to Nigeria, it was never widely embraced or acceptable, but people would rather look the other way than get involved and make an issue of it.

That was the case, until one day in July  when the Senators voted on ‘Amendment of the part of the constitution relating to persons qualified to renounce Nigerian citizenship’ The constitution in Section 29 apparently states that’ anyone of age can do so’. Section 29(4) (b) states that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age”. This in itself is complex enough, the committee propose that the provision be deleted; and rightly so. Despite the confusions surrounding the full implications of the amendment,2/3 of the Senate voted for it to be deleted and so it was.

May I just say that, though the post is not about Senator Yerima, it is difficult, even almost impossible to discuss this issue and not mention him. He protested against the outcome and brought the issue of religion into the equation. One might think he has a vested interest; considering he married his 4th wife while she was 15,had a child and he divorced her by the time she was 17 according to various reports. Unfortunately there are many older men in the same situation in the Country.

My fear is that these children are being denied the opportunity to make educated and informed decisions on what they want in life or how they would rather live their lives.

The Yerimas of the world are not solely to blame; some parents would actually take their children to these men, either due to economic reasons or power and control as is anything that violates human rights

This is why we need the Law to be concise, straightforward and explicit in protecting these vulnerable children.

RELIGION: Addressing the issue of child bride is not Anti-Islam. It is common knowledge that it is an Islamic practice based on the interpretation of the Quran and the Prophet marrying Aisha when she was 12,but contrary to impregnating these children these men are supposed to wait until they are of age (still vague) before having sexual intercourse with them. The Senator in question apparently divorced his 4th wife to take on another child bride to be No 4, so he can remain within the 4wives allowed by his religious belief. There is also the Sharia law, which is often used to substantiate these beliefs.

Interestingly, there is a Child Rights Act in operation in Nigeria, though sadly not universally embraced in its entirety. The convention was domesticated as the Child rights Act in 2003 and prohibits child marriages. Marriages contracted with anyone under the age of 18 is null and void and if any parent or anyone with parental responsibilities engage in such, they will be imprisoned for up to 5years or pay a fine of 500,000naira or both if convicted.

The question therefore is why one person was able to still the decision of the Senate, even with the Child Rights Acts in place.

The problems of child marriages are not only socio-economic; there are the health implications as well. These children run the risk of Vesico- Vaginal Fistula, VRV amongst others. I am not going to quote statistics because I have seen, treated and helped enough patients in this category ~ it carries a stigma, they are often abandoned and frankly one is one too many but there are thousands of cases all over Africa, mostly young girls.

Nigeria is not alone in practicing child marriages, it is highly common in Southern Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa.

In Egypt and some other Countries however, they have managed to turn the situation round and set a legal age limit for marriage.

Which way Forward? I believe all is not lost. As every concerned Nigerian and indeed citizens of the world have expressed their concern and disbelief at the sheer thought of leaving our Future in Jeopardy.

The importance of education and awareness regarding consensual marriage within the society at large cannot be overemphasized. The implications of child marriages should not be sugar coated either.

It is vital that the Child Acts Right, as a matter of urgency be universally adopted in its entirety.  And as for the Constitution…………

Here is to doing the Right thing by every Girl ~Children are the Future of the Nation.

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