‘’Human rights are not a matter of opinion’’ -Anonymous.
This journey we are about to embark on is not a road less travelled. The topic has always found its way to the top of discussion lists amongst human right activists and journalists both local and international level. The truth is, no matter how repeatedly this matter is discussed, except the menace is thoroughly cured, it cannot be over-flogged.
Child Marriage is simply a marriage involving a person under the age of 18.
This issue of Child Marriage applies to both boys and girls, but it goes without questioning that the girl child suffers the most in this inhuman arrangement, ranging from risk of child birth mortality, health damage, emotional imbalance, shattered dreams, suspended destinies, loss of childhood, feeling of self-worthlessness, to stunted physical development and more.
Research has it that over 600 million girls and women of the world’s population were married off below the age of 18, and a higher percentage of that figure are girls from Africa. In 2013, Nigeria was recorded to have the world’s highest number of child brides with 49% of Nigerian women married under the age of 18. Another research reveals that 1 of every 3 girls, in a global spectrum, is a victim of child marriage. This is so disheartening! In 2016, Nigeria joined the African Union Campaign to end Child Marriage in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) she has committed to achieve by 2030, to eliminate all forms of harmful practices, including child marriage. Over the years however, capped with the COVID-19 battle of last year, Nigeria seems to have relented on this fight.
Every child is endowed with the same fundamental human rights as adults, they are no lesser human than the adults around them. They are thus entitled to Right to Life (it is pertinent to add at this instant, right to a purposeful and fulfilled life), Right to Education, Right to the Pursuit of Happiness, Right to Freedom from every form of Violence, Right to Personal Dignity, Reproductive Rights and particularly Right to Consensual Marriage, and like the caption above states, human rights are not a matter of opinion, it must be guaranteed and protected. Child Marriage, in whatever frame it is disguised, is a plain denial of these rights that accrue to the child.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, there is no unified legislation on the subject matter. Our supreme law, the Constitution, worsened the situation by merely stipulating that any woman who is married is deemed to be of full age (Section 29(4)(b) of the 1999 Constitution as amended). It is worthy of note that this provision of the constitution is preceded by the sub paragraph that provides that “full age means the age of 18 and above” (sub para (a). Though this section is in particular reference to the matter of citizenship, a question that comes to mind is ‘what is the essence of the presumption in the sub paragraph b of Section 29(4) when the preceding sub paragraph has clearly stated the meaning of ‘full age’. Could it be that the Law is foreseeing without stating that some women may marry at an age below 18, or is this an implied postulation that no woman is to marry at a younger age than 18? Whilst this remain a puzzle to be solved, we are thankful that there are quite a number of International Instruments to which Nigeria is signatory, that have done justice to the subject matter to a large extent, particularly, the Child’s Rights Act that was domesticated by the National Assembly in 2003. However, much is still dependent on domestication of the laws by all the 36 States of our nation and the aggressive implementation of the provisions of these laws as it concerns the protection and preservation of the lives of our children particularly the most vulnerable of them, our girls.
We cannot deny the fact that children are our precious gifts from the Supreme God. They are our godly heritage whose happy faces light up the world. They are also an embodiment of potentials that need to be nurtured into full manifestation. So, the question is why would some parents, after receiving these beautiful gifts, be the same to jeopardize their future, for what exactly??? You see why we say education is key?
In this edition of our newsletter, we do not intend to do the talking alone. We want to engage you in this discourse. Tell us what you think on this subject. We have some thought-provoking questions too that can facilitate this interaction:
Why do we have laws that criminalize the act of defilement but is silent on the issue of child marriage?
Does marriage legalize defilement/rape of the girl child?
Is the consent of a child below the age 18, sufficient for the purpose of a consensual marriage?
How best can this menace be completely cured?
We would be happy to provide our answers to the above in the next newsletter. We look forward to hearing from you.