Why You Must Stand up Against Child Marriage in Nigeria

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Biodun Awosusi

I have been inundated with calls, messages and tweets from friends about the decision of the Nigerian Senate on the retention of section 29(4) b. I commend several Nigerians who have participated in various protests across the country against this decision. We must continue to mount pressure on the national assembly until they rescind their decision. Child marriage is immoral and deprives girls of their human rights. What the girl child needs is education not marriage!

Is it just about renunciation of citizenship?

Frankly, this issue is more than Sen. Yerima, only myopic people will make it revolve around him. But I would like to ask a few questions: How on Earth will an old man marry a 13-year old? What will the poor girl do for him? What does she even understand at that tender age? She has barely just started menstruating and trying to understand her physiology! Does she cook for him? Does she just lay his bed? Does she sleep in a room where she will not be touched until she is 18?

What would have happened if all the leading ladies and women we have in Nigeria had suffered “cradle snatching”, as Oby Ezekwesili aptly puts this menace of child marriage? I do agree with Prof. Farooq that the contentious section is about renunciation of citizenship. The 1999 Constitution recognizes two definitions for a person of full age: 18years and above, or any married woman. Senators initially moved to remove the second definition because it implies that even a married underage girl is of full age. However, Senator Yerima (and his cohorts) in an attempt to legalize his marriage to the 15-year old Egyptian allegedly called the Senate to order: he argues that the Senate lacks the capacity to decide on customary or Islamic law. So, the two definitions must remain.

In support of this position, distinguished Professor Farooq says the two definitions must remain so that the underage married girl can renounce her citizenship. He was right. He only reechoed the contradictions of these two laws. If Section 21 of the Child Rights Act (CRA) forbids the marriage of persons below 18 years with a punishment of N500, 000 or a 5 year jail term and section 29(4)b recognizes any married woman (including underage) as of full age, the contradiction is obvious.

There is no need for section 29(4)b if the CRA is in full force and the preceding section 29(4)a defines full age as 18years and above. Therefore, we must ask the Senate to rescind its decision to retain section 29(4)b. It is an anomaly that will pave way for Senator Yerima and his cohorts to perpetuate child marriage and the problems associated with it, such as adolescent pregnancy, hypertension in pregnancy and maternal deaths.

The selfish immoral motive behind child marriage

To further appreciate the issues at stake, we must not only look at the words of the law but also at the spirit behind the law. I believe if the motives and the letters are wrong, the law must be rejected. If the letters seem right but the motives are wrong, it should also be rejected. A law should be accepted only when the letters and motives are right.

1070092_10151611634549584_591988241_nSen. Yerima and his paedophilic gang have one clear motive in mind: let us establish a legal framework to perpetuate child marriage and adolescent pregnancy in Nigeria. It is utterly selfish and reckless!

It appears the same in “the Arab region where 1 in 7 girls marries before her 18th birthday. Families who marry off their daughters at such a young age may believe that it is in the girls’ best interest, not realizing that they are violating their daughters’ human rights”, writes popular Arab researchers Farzaneh Roudi-Fahimi and Shaimaa Ibrahim. They add:Early marriage often means an end to the girls’ schooling, forced sexual relations, and early childbearing. Moreover, girls who marry at a younger age are generally more vulnerable to spousal violence than girls who wait longer to marry. Child marriage often perpetuates a cycle of poverty, low education, high fertility, and poor health, which hinders societies’ economic and social development.”

So at what age can a woman marry? CRA says 18 years and above. We must support this. At this age, she can decide for herself, can vote and be voted for. She can make informed choices about her life and her future. However those who want section 29(4)b to remain are afraid of this choice. They claim their religion allows them to ‘keep in custody’ a girl less than 18years who they plan to marry. An adult male can receive a 6year old girl from her parents in exchange for money but as Sen. Yerima says “consummation of the marriage can only be done when the girl becomes physically mature and she gives her consent to it.” This position smells of impatience and selfish interests. it is barbaric and inhuman.

If you want to take care of a beautiful lady, why don’t you emImagepower her parents? Why are the senators not interested in influencing the Executive to fast-track poverty eradication in Nigeria? Why abduct the poor girl who knows nothing about you? Why can’t you be patient till she is full of age and let’s see how good you are at wooing a lady? It is selfish to hoodwink her into your home until she is of full age when she would no longer decide clearly in her best interest! This is a form of slavery that warrants the attention of the CNN Freedom Project!

The devastating results of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy

We have long been advocating against adolescent pregnancy. When I wrote an article last week for the World Population Day on the plight of adolescent girls in Northern Nigeria, I did not have a clue the Senate could be swayed by “pro-pedophilia, pro-child rape and pro-child marriage group within it” as Femi Fani-Kayode calls the Yerima gang!

Why do we make so much noise about this burdensome issue? It is because adolescent pregnancy is a major risk factor for hypertension in pregnancy, anemia in pregnancy, prolonged obstructed labour, vesico-vaginal fistula and ultimately maternal mortality! It kills several women in Northern Nigeria before they can ‘consummate’ their abduction! Many of them have been battered by the trauma of unwanted sexual assault and domestic violence.

In view of this, all well-meaning Nigerians should rise to the occasion to help this disadvantaged species. They are weak and uneducated so we may not hear their voices.We all need to stand for them.

There are a few liars who are ready to sensationalize this issue in their favor. They do not listen to them. Sign the petition.

Drop your signature in support of this move against child marriage. Tell your friends, neighbors and colleagues to do same. Make them understand why this is necessary to protect girls across the country and ensure they get education and not ejuculation!

This will be beginning of civil involvement in the entire constitution review process. If Yerima and his cohort succeed, we would have failed a generation of girls who will never have the opportunity to become leaders like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nike Adeyemi, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Joyce Banda, Remi Tinubu, Abike Dabiri or Onyeka Onwenu!

Can you imagine what would have happened if all the wives of the governors, female senators and house of Rep members, leading female managing directors and CEOs and exemplary ladies like Bisi Fayemi, Chimamanda Adichie, Asha, Mo Abudu, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde or Obiageli Ezekwesili were forced to early marriage at 13?

13 Comments

  1. Dr B, I have never read anyone opposing the Senate Amendment show so much understanding of the matters under review.

    You clearly have read the constitution and understand that although the amendment to the 1999 constitution was indeed done in good faith by the Senators, Yerima and his ilk must have prevented them from doing a thorough job especially with deleting section 29 subsection 4 (b).

    Your understanding of the Child Rights Act (CRA) esp section 21 shows that you have taken time to study other relevant laws despite not being trained as a lawyer, much unlike the legal practitioners often arrogate it to themselves as being the only ones who are ‘learned.’

    When all of this good work done, or written here above is juxtaposed with your enormous work which has attained global recognition despite your relatively young age, in propagation of the health and rights of women, children and the less privileged, it clearly indicates that you are a right voice for this cause and in this period.

    For the first time and in a public place like the internet indeed is, let me confess that looking back now, it is indeed a huge blessing that you didn’t get lost in our primary clinical practise of “No pallor, no jaundice” as my friend Dr Seun Adeyemi John jokes about the role of primary clinicians. Some of us had initially thought we, or the ‘primary’ clinical practise lost you when you didn’t seem to take the common ‘express’ back to the Teaching Hospital after basic training… I’m sure you took the journey of self discovery and I’m so proud of what you’ve become now – blazing the trail in previously uncharted, or little known territory of Social Medicine.

    Very few Nigerians could seat down and write what you wrote above here. Trust me to give this article & this weblink massive publicity. God bless you chief. God bless you Dr B.

    You are a great man and may you remain elevated!

    May God bless our Nation!

  2. Thumbs up Biodun…your article is on point. One of most important indicator for development is how we as a country treat the female gender. It is only retrogressive if we allow subtle clauses in our constitution that give room for “pedophiles” to continue to have their way in the name of religious fundamentalism.

  3. Excellent Awosusi! This saga reflects the great divide in the values of the Nigerian people. this kind of thinking dominates the north and contributes to the high maternal and child mortality, low female literacy rates etc etc Yerima and cohorts vote is representative of much of the people they lead….unfortunately.

    1. Ayo, It is so unfortunate some ‘honorable’ men support dishonorable acts. Our utter opposition made the Ondo Senator to weep claiming he voted wrongly! It has raised civil awareness of the constitution amendment process. We will continue to push for girl education and oppose child marriage!

  4. I have had the opportunity to work with a DFiD project that has put so many funds into combating VVF in Nigeria. Opening a VVF hospital in the north in my opinion is not the solution to combating VVF, Voting against Child marriage, also in my opinion, is the first big step Nigerians should take in combating VVF as 97% of the cases of VVF are Children. Nigerians should fight this act and not depend on International tax payers funds to fight problem we have coursed as a result of our not making the right decision. An Old man does not have any business with an underage girl. I stand for Girl child education, I stand for women empowerment, and I stand for Nigeria. I vote against Child marriage.

    1. Dear Irene,

      Many thanks for your comment and support for our cause against child marriage. Your wealth of experience adds useful insights to this debate. Keep advocating for the girl child!

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