She is a Child!

The recent constitutional amendment protest bothers me. My concern is not about the protests in themselves, but in the cause of this and many past democratic objections –an unconstitutional amendment of a constitutional amendment. Although there is a little confusion as regards the cause of the resistance, it is clear that Nigerians are starting to take a stand for their welfare.  

The Constitution does not clearly support the marriage of minors; however, a certain clause seems to give some Islamic citizens a legal defense for the child marriage tradition. Anyone who has experienced a court hearing or a legislative debate knows that all a good speaker needs to win an argument, is a grey area or an ambiguous clause. The genesis of the chaos is a disturbing provisional section on Citizenship Renunciation. Our sacrosanct Constitution (like the Unionist used to say during my College days,) states in Section 29 (1) that:  

“Any citizen of Nigeria of full age who wishes to renounce his Nigerian citizenship shall make a declaration in the prescribed manner for the renunciation.”
Section 29 (4) states:
“For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section:
a. ‘full of age” means the age of eighteen years and above;
b. any woman who is married shall be deemed to be full of age.”  

The Constitutional Amendment Committee (kudos!) recommended that the Section 29:4b clause should be taken out, since it deemed to make the Constitution in support of child marriage. However, Senator Yerima (whose recent marriage to an Egyptian girl in her early teens caused a loud stir,) argued that the removal of (4b) would be against his interpretation of Islam. It was voted in by 60% of the Senators WE elected (directly or indirectly.)

In this situation, clause (4b) SEEMS to be in support of the girl-child, as it gives her the right to refuse the citizenship of her husband. It seems to say that she may choose to identify with her country of origin alone. For example, it means that Senator Yerima’s girl-wife can refuse to be a Nigerian. However, it also SEEMS to allow the existence of marriage of to a minor. Since Sharia, (an Islamic Legal system that supposedly encourages child-marriage,) is allowed in Nigeria, –in cases where all parties involved are Muslims; it is hereby inferred that the Constitution permits child-marriage.  

This clause has several problems:
1. “Any woman who is married…” refers to any WOMAN, not any FEMALE. Is an underage FEMALE a woman?
2. Should any married female “…be deemed to be full of age” even when it is clear that she is in fact not “full of age”, but influenced by socio-cultural factors?
3. “Full of age means eighteen years and above”; in the first place, should a child be allowed to get married and treated as a full grown woman when she is not? 4. Most importantly, it negates the Child Rights Act of 2003, which states the minimum marriage age to be eighteen years.  

According to UNDP, 45% of girls in Northern Nigeria are married before their eighteenth birthday. Having sex with an underage is ‘statutory rape’ in Nigeria. If so, what does this call the men that marry these young girls? I am of the opinion that a person under the age of eighteen should not be allowed to get married, even if the parents agree. I believe that most people from all religions share this opinion, including Muslims. Did you take a listen to the statement of the eleven-year-old Yemeni girl, who escaped from an arranged marriage three weeks ago?

The refusal to remove the problematic clause somehow bestows an adult status (and responsibility) on a married child, a mere child. It also tends to support child-marriage, which is usually forced; and this, is what Nigerians are fighting. Adulthood is a status that requires a high-level social and emotional responsibility, and we should not impose it on a child because she is physiologically ready to get married. The Senate should fight for child education, and not child ‘adultification’. (Allow my coinage.)     

This uprising should stir us up as citizens, to be careful of what we do with our voice and our votes. (In subsequent posts, I would write about my experience as an electoral official during the last elections.) If there is a formal objection about this issue in your locality, please get involved. This is also a call to the men and women of good standing who have refused to participate in the political sectors of the nation. It is true that politics is full of dirty stuff and dirty people, but leaving the scene only gives room for the corruption to continue. If a place is dirty, someone has to do the cleaning! There is a lot we need to do, but we should do our bit as individuals because together, WE make the government. You can do your bit by sharing this! Please, share this post.