Updated Petition Against Under-Age Marriage In Nigeria.
On the 18th of July 2013, the Senate voted on an amendment of Section 29 of the Nigerian Constitution, the relevant part which was: Section 29 (1) Any citizen of Nigeria of full age who wishes to renounce his Nigerian citizenship shall make a declaration prescribed manner for the renunciation. Sub-section 4 states: For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section. (a) "full age" means the age of eighteen years and above; (b) any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.
A majority of Senators -- totalling (up to) two-thirds of members as required for a constitutional amendment -- voted to delete clause (b). However, a request for a second vote was made by Senator Ahmed Yerima on the basis that the deletion of that clause was discriminatory against Muslim women, in that Islamic Law permits females to marry under the age of 18. The amendment was once again put to vote -- after eventual concession by the Senate President, following an initial objection to a deviation from Parliamentary rules on voting. A majority of Senators once again voted to delete clause (b). However, on this occasion, the required two-thirds majority was not attained, and the amendment was in effect defeated. Our position is that this clause legitimises the exploitation of female children since the effect of clause (b) quite simply is: a. To deem a female to be of-age, simply by virtue of the act of marriage; b. To thus legitimise the marriage of minors. c. To neutralise the provisions of Sections 21 and 31 of the Child Rights Act 2003, which serve to make unlawful marriage to and indeed intercourse with minors, defined simply as a child under the age of 18 years. Whilst it is acknowledged that this vote did not introduce Section 29 (4)b, since it was already in the constitution, it has however highlighted the need for legal protection for minors in the light of what is clearly a huge gap in Nigerian law.
Simply put, the law as it stands today, provides no protection for a minor being subjected to sexual intercourse regardless of age, as long as the same is done within the boundaries of marriage, even though she may not have the capacity to understand or appreciate the nature of the marriage contract. It is important to state that this matter is not simply part of a Muslim-Christian schism, and it is noted that the votes in the Senate both for and against, appeared to cross both ethnic and religious lines. What is most important is that the effect of the retention of Section 29 (4)b will leave children all over Nigeria, whether Northern, Southern, Christian, Muslim or Animist with no protection from exploitation which is happening and will continue until action is taken.
The effects of Child Marriages are well documented and one of the most visible effects being the prevalence of the horribly debilitating disease Vesico-Vaginal Fistula (VVF) amongst young females in Nigeria. 12,000 cases are reported yearly in Nigeria, most of which are young females of northern extraction. This is not counting the unseen psychological and social cost inherent in mortgaging the lives of a generation of young children.
What we ask for is a universally applicable law protecting minors by defining a minimum marriageable age, since the simple fact is that without legislation, young children are legally exposed to sexual exploitation.
Please sign this petition, which could be your small contribution to ensuring huge positive change in Nigerian law and protecting many generations of Nigerian children, now and in the future, from sexual exploitation.
Thank you for your support!
Updated Petition written by Ed Keazor