Constitutionalising the Violation of the Right of the Girl Child in Nigeria: Exploring Constitutional Safeguards and Pitfalls

Azubike Onuora-Oguno - 5th August 2013

The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the highest legislative arm in Nigeria, is on the verge of enshrining the legality of child marriage. This is a direct implication of the voting pattern anchored by Senator Yerima (former governor of Zamfara State) refusing the deleting of Section 29 (4) (b) of Nigeria’s current Constitution.  Nigeria’s 1999 constitution left open a possibility for the legality of girl child marriage: Section 29 (4) of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution provides that age of maturity is age 18. However, Section 29 (4) (b) includes an exception for girl children and proclaims that girl children reach maturity when they marry, regardless of the age of marriage. Thus, marriage arguably elevates even a ‘1 year’ old female child to the status of womanhood. Removal of the above section portends the inferred exclusion of child marriages.

Unfortunately, proponents of maintaining Section 29 (4) (b) base the argument on Islamic law. However, Nigeria is not a religious state and the constitution should be devoid of religious undertones. Indeed, instead of mere inference of rejection of girl child marriage there should be a literal and direct rejection of marriages of girls below 18 years of age.

Nigeria’s obligation under global and regional laws remains at variance with maintaining Section 29 (4) (b). Sec 21 and Sec 22 of the Child’s Right Act of Nigeria 2003 (CRA) prohibits the marriage of a girl child or support any such act by an individual. It further provides for punishment for anyone involved in its promotion (sec 23). In addition, Article 18 (3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and Article 27 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child all prohibit girl child marriages. Article 16 of the Convention on Elimination of all Forms Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); Article 16 (2) of the Convention of the Rights of a Child (CRC) all abhor child marriages. The 1962 Convention of Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and Registration of Marriages also advocate for the stipulation of minimum marriage age of the girl child (Article 1 and 2).

The CRA (2003) of Nigeria is compliant with the right to life and health of a child as stipulated in Q2 V 233 (see ITM Kalamadeen; Rights of Nigerian Child under Shariah and The Child’s Right Act 2003). It is my inference that the reasoning of Kalamadeen can also be hinged on the dangers of early girl child marriage which includes but not limited to high risk of HIV/Aids, Cervical Cancer, other STD’s as inherent risks to the right to health and life of the child which Islamic Law upholds.

Instead of the entrenching a violation of human rights and an abuse of Nigeria’s obligation under global and regional human rights law, the protective clause of prosecuting any person involved in the promotion of early marriage for girls under the age of 18 should be activated and individuals involved in it be prosecuted according to the law. As it currently stands, Section 29 (4) (b) remains a significant roadblock to gender equality in Nigeria.

Azubike Onuora-Oguno A.C, LLB (Nig), BL (Nig), LLM (Pretoria), is currently an LLD candidate and Tutor in the Center for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria. His research interests are human rights and international law with a particular focus on minority rights (Indigenous People and Gender) and the right to education.

Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Are you suggesting that the law of Great Britain which allows marriage at 16 (with parental permission in England and Wales, without in Scotland) is inadequate in its protection of girls?

    Since girls mature emotionally sooner than boys should not any difference be in the direction of a lower age for females?

  2. Efficiency says:

    This makes a very interesting reading but there is need to understand the dynamics of Section 29 (4)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which essentially does not prescribe any age of marriage but only provides that any woman that is married is deemed to be of full age. In the light of the above, all we need is advocacy and sensitization of the Nigerian woman to ensure that no girl is given out in marriage contrary to stipulations in all the various laws domestic and international to which Nigeria is a signatory.
    I commend Azubuike for the enlightenment.

  3. Solomon Tekle says:

    I read the post with great enthusiasm. But my issue is if a Nigerian girl can conclude marriage at any age, what happens to a girl marriage concluded before the coming into force of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution or a treaty or local legislation? Should such marriage be rejected and those involved in it be prosecuted? Should not we make few lawful exceptions to the 18 years limit for legalizing girl marriage?

  4. Blaire says:

    I am elated by the writing and the further comment by Efficiency. It is important that as mothers and citizens we educate our children and push the frontiers of a better life for us all. It is important that we guide the decisions of our young ones and ensure that they a enjoy a greater tomorrow.

  5. Vivian says:

    Expository!!! Lovely and enriching, how do we pursue the advised sensitization? I will follow the one tell one approach. I am sure that all the stories will end up on a personal basis of parental conviction but now I see the State has a great role to also play in the realization of the rights of the girl in Nigeria.

  6. Howdy! This article couldn’t be written much better!
    Looking through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!

    He always kept talking about this. I’ll forward
    this article to him. Pretty sure he’s going to have a very good read.
    Thank you for sharing!

  7. I just want to say I’m newbie to blogs and definitely loved your web page. Almost certainly I’m planning to bookmark your blog . You actually come with great well written articles. Kudos for revealing your web-site.

  8. Oroma says:

    This well written piece has added my research. We as a people needs proper sensitization to save the future of our girls.

    1. Azubike Onuora-Oguno says:

      thanks, please share your research summary if fine by you.

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