YNaija Ombudsman: Why we align ourselves with the #ChildNotBride campaign

by Editorial Board

child marriage

After the initial burst of emotions and passion following the Senate’s constitutional amendments last week, a counter-movement has emerged over the weekend – and, according to its drivers, the young people crying against the Senate’s action last week were misguided, ignorant and misinformed. This view has gained particular currency this morning, including on our spirited Opinion section.

[READ: Cheta Nwanze says he is “sick and tired of ignorant people” with Blackberries]

To that extent, as we continue to report this issue, and, in our usual tradition, highlight the various sides of the matter even if we find disagree with some opinion in the matter, it becomes important to emphasise our editorial interpretation of the legislative action, and how it advances our reportage of what is an issue very important to our YNaija Community.

To that extent, we will borrow from one of our many stellar contributors and restate the facts:

[READ: Naomi Lucas on ‘What’s all this noise about the girl child?’]

  • 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.

The contentious provision(s) are reproduced below:

29. (1) 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.
(2) The President shall cause the declaration made under subsection (1) of this section to be registered and upon such registration, the person who made the declaration shall cease to be a citizen of Nigeria.
(3) The President may withhold the registration of any declaration made under subsection (1) of this section if-
(a) the declaration is made during any war in which Nigeria is physically involved; or
(b) in his opinion, it is otherwise contrary to public policy.
(4) 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.

and item 61, Part 1 of the Second Schedule under the Exclusive List which gives the National Assembly the Legislative Powers to consider:
61. The formation, annulment and dissolution of marriages other than marriages under Islamic law and Customary law including matrimonial causes relating thereto.

The issue centers on the ability to renounce Nigerian citizenship – and the law as it stands indicates that a woman who is married at any age is deemed of “full age” and can renounce her citizenship.

While it is not accurate that the Senate “legalized” child marriage in fact, it is splitting of hairs to insist that its action did not do so in effect. By refusing to delete the ambiguous, and troubling clause, our upper legislative house indicates that it has no problem with children getting married under the age of 18, and thus legitimized this phenomenon by default.

More to the point, especially for states that have not passed the Child Rights Act, this disturbing clause in fact gives moral comfort to those members of the Nigerian citizenry who find nothing reprehensible about the various proven psychological, medical and other traumas that child marriages visit upon the victims.

To that extent, we find it completely valid for the body of campaigners to decide upon naming and shaming the Senators who insisted that Sections 29, Subsection 4b be retained to continue their campaign. While we will pull our punches in taking a stand on the substantive matter, we will continue to report their campaign as legitimate, and well-informed.

In addition, the well-considered clarification of the Senate’s actions – delivered with grace and without condescension by lawyer and activist Maryam Uwais – will suffice as further reading that informs our decision in this regard.

Thankfully, the popular online petition(s) by passionate young Nigerians disturbed about the matter has been changed with the clarifications – but its spirit and substance is yet legitimate, and urgent.

[READ: “It will destroy our girls”: Abike Dabiri opposes bill encouraging child marriages]

Public campaigns from #JusticeforTrayvon through #Kony2012 to #OccupyNigeria cannot have all its participants in possession of every material fact concerning the case in question, and neither is it necessary – all that is required is that their hearts are in the right place, and the passion is backed by substance, as long as their leaders have facility with the issues.

Thus, while we will continue to give a fair space for all sides of this matter to table their justifications and ideas, we wish to state that we support the spirit and cause of this petition(s), and associated campaigns.

Let those who want to focus on the Child’s Rights Act 2003 do so. And let those who want to focus on what they see as shameful acquiescence by Senators do so.

The only beneficiary of all of this is the Nigerian child – and that should be good enough for any one.

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