Can you imagine watching your future bride in a game of skipping, or playing with her dolls. Perhaps, she is excited and reading a school book with dreams in her head for becoming a doctor or teacher. Then, you walk over, a male adult and you take away her childhood! paula.
Nigeria’s Senate has failed to remove a clause in the constitution which legitimises child marriage. It is time for Nigeria to protect its young girls and fight for equality.
In July, 2013, word spread like wildfire in Nigeria through news websites, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook that the Nigerian Senate had voted to legitimise child marriage. You can bet that the Senate is made up mostly of men!!!
As part of its review of some sections of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Senate took a vote on July 16 concerning the removal of clause 29 (4)(b).
That clause states that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age”, essentially legitimising child marriages by establishing that any girl younger than 18 is automatically mature enough to handle the responsibilities and realities of marriage by virtue of her involvement in the act of marriage itself. note that it states any “WOMAN’. When does a chld become a woman?
Although the majority of the Senate voted against it, with 60 voting for removal and 35 voting for retention, the total fell short of the 73 votes required to change the Constitution.
Child marriage is an institution that infringes upon the rights and freedoms, and damages the health and autonomy, of young girls. If Nigerian citizens want to protect young girls, they must stand against child marriage and call on their Senators and Representatives to do so too, beginning by removing this legitimsation of child marriage in our constitution.
Islam and child marriage: a senator’s opinion
The acknowledgement of child marriage would have been on its way out of the constitution if it had not been for the intervention of one particular Senator. Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima of Zamfara West led calls on the floor of the Senate to reject the constitutional committee’s recommendation for removing the clause.
Yerima, who himself is widely believed to have married a 13 year old girl in 2009, pushed for a second vote on the matter following an initial vote which had produced the majority required to remove the clause, arguing that under Islamic law a woman is of age once she is married, and that Nigeria cannot legislate on marriages under Islamic rites.
Yerima’s invocation of Islamic law succeeded in forcing a second vote as President of the Senate, David Mark, recognised the issue as “sensitive”. However, the idea that child marriage is sacrosanct in strict interpretations of Islamic law is far from universally accepted.
Indeed, it has been compellingly argued, by Maryam Uwasis, mongst others, that the conditions chimongst others, that the conditions child brides find themselves in are incompatible with Sharia law, which seeks to promote dignity and justice and prevent harm. Partly for this reason, many ld brides find themselves in are incompatible with Sharia law, which seeks to promote dignity and justice and prevent haPartly for this reason, many Muslim-majority countries – including those for which Sharia is part of the legal or legislative system, for example Egypt – hold 18 as the minimum age for marriage.
Health, education and child marriage
Child marriage is not a marginal issue in Nigeria. According to the United Nations, 20% of Nigerian girls are married by age 15. This number rises to nearly 50% in the Northwest region of the country from which Senator Yerima hails. How can anyone take a child and force her into servitude, which is what so many girls find themselves in.