by Naomi Lucas
- Nigeria’s Senate Constitution Review Committee proposed the deletion of Section 29, Subsection 4b of our Constitution.
- 79 out of 109 Senators voted in favour of the deletion.
- Senator Ahmed Yerima then proposed a re-vote citing some part of the Constitution as justification.
- David Mark, the Senate President agreed.
- 35 Senators voted against the proposed deletion.
- Activists, Civil Rights Groups, Development Agencies, Bloggers and ordinary Nigerians have all come together, clamouring for the right of the girl-child in what has become one of the most passionate cause campaigns I’ve seen in recent times.
- The section in dispute is section 29 of the Constitution, which says:
– Full age means the age of eighteen years and above;
– Any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.
- Section 29 as captured above, has been in the Constitution since 1999.
- Interestingly, Section 29 is listed under Chapter III in the Constitution, a chapter dealing mainly with the issue of renunciation of Nigerian Citizenship.
- The sub-section specifies which categories of citizens are eligible to renounce their citizenship i.e anyone 18 years or older and any married woman irrespective of age.
- As is, this means any married woman under 18 who wants to renounce her Nigerian citizenship has been given additional rights to do so by virtue of her status as a married woman.
I’ve been sent all sorts of petitions, broadcast messages, I’ve been asked to volunteer for the cause; I’ve read posts, tweets, arguments and pleas to save the girl-child. As has become the case with Nigeria, the discussions have derailed into North versus South, ethnic and religious attacks; understandably so as over 90% of the Senators who voted are from the North and Muslim too. I see people have pitched tents with either the gender or the morality crew. Everyone has become a social crusader; good.
But I can’t help but wonder; how many of those writing, rebroadcasting BB messages, re-tweeting, arguing, signing petitions, distributing petitions, calling for Nigeria’s disintegration, how many of you actually understand what you fight for?
And if you understand, do you honestly believe Subsection B is all that is needed to save the Nigerian girl-child, especially when Nigeria as a Sovereign nation cannot even decide what the word ‘child’ or ‘minor’ means?
A child/minor according to The Nigerian Constitution and Child Rights Act is anyone below 18. The Immigration Act deems anyone under 16 a minor, The Nigerian Marriage Act, which in my opinion is a more relevant anchor for the #ChildNotBride campaign doesn’t even mention age; it states the need for parental consent but even if none is given, the marriage still remains valid. The Matrimonial Causes Act states that for a marriage to be valid the child must be of ‘marriageable’ age but again, there is no age specification.
Really, our laws are not collectively exhaustive and they provide ample loopholes for any serious minded pedophile or ‘girl-child marrier ‘ bent on having his way. The most comprehensive laws protecting the girl-child are contained in the Child Rights Act, 2003, a Federal Convention for the protection of children’s rights and as we speak, only 24 out of Nigeria’s 36 states have passed it into state law. Most of the states in the North with the exception of Jigawa have rejected the entire convention because they perceive some aspects to be unislamic. Incidentally, it is in these states that early marriage is most prevalent.
There you have it. While we scream at the Senate until we are blue in the face about a Subsection that in my opinion has no relation whatsoever as to whether a girl-child can be married off as a minor or not, the state Governors sleep with ease because we’ve taken our battle to the wrong door. The real fight is with the Governors who have refused to approve an exhaustive convention that prohibits child marriages, child betrothal and promotion of child marriages and further specifies a fine and/or imprisonment of up to 5 years for defaulters.
Campaigning for the rights of the girl-child is commendable. I love that we can get together and use our voices to champion a good cause. The #ChildNotBride campaign over Subsection B is a quibbling over semantics which has no real bearing on the wellbeing of the Nigerian girl-child. Anchoring the success of the campaign to its passage is superfluous, ineffective and misdirected. It displays a worrying lack of understanding of the issues and the collective steps we need to take to address them.
*To be continued.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.