An Appraisal Of Child Marriage Under Nigerian Law
Background of the Study
Nigeria has once again attracted the World’s attention on a topical issue of global interest. This time around, the attention was shifted from insurgency of the dreaded and uncompromising Boko Haram in the Northern Nigeria; corruption in the high places; our undemocratic political parties; communal land disputes between Ezza and Ezillo in Ebonyi State; the Plateau State senseless family cleansings and so on to a more sensitive issue of individual, family, state, national, regional and global interest bothering on Child Marriage. The battle line was drawn by the National Assembly through the Senate when S29 (b) of the Constitution which contradicts S29 (a) particularly the Child Rights Act on Age limit for marriage was attempted to be amended. Although this part of the constitution deals with citizenship matters, the clause in the opinion of many grants the liberty for an adult male to marry under-age girl who is less than 18 years. Once this happens, such marriage seems to conferon the Child Bride adulthood and legal capacity. However, the Senate had initially voted to delete the clause before Senator Yerima of Zamfara State persuaded his colleagues for a second vote which eventually purportedly went for his favour. He argued that that it would be blasphemous and against Islam to legislate or fix the age of marriage in years. Consequently, the second vote failed to remove that constitutional provision. The informed public and Human Rights community interpreted the Senate resolution as express adoption of Girl-Child Marriage in the Country at a time when government is pumping billions of Naira from local and foreign aids in a bid to increase girl-child school enrolment. Indeed, it was seen as a major drawback by the Human Rights Community and well informed individuals.
Consequently, the National Open University of Nigeria, School of Law braced the trail by being the first ivory institution in the country and indeed in Africa after the saga to organize a public Seminar/Workshop to discuss the vexed and controversial issue which has generate considerable interest locally and internationally on the 4th of September, 2013 at the School Auditorium in Lagos. It was a conference of Nigeria’s finest brains from academic to religious as well traditional leaders and captains of industries. Speakers after speakers in the event, all speaking from their background and perspective on the day but one thing was absolutely common in all their submission; that the law as well as religious faiths did not provide marriageable age of a girl-child but rather, religions, conflict of laws dictates the right age of marriage of a girl-child.
This paper is in line with the Spirit of the current debate on Child Marriage in Nigeria yearning for a lasting solution to the issue. It is obvious that one does go after rats when in actual sense, his roof is under fire. How long do we condone evil and impropriety in our land shows how much we appreciate good things. It is time to call a spade a spade. The old adage that says it’s better to allow a sleeping dog lie can no longer hold water in face of teething challenges and problems occasioned by inhumanity of man to man. We must at all time and in all places no matter the cost to us stand for justice, equity and fairness. Therefore, this paper expectedly draws from the proceedings of the Seminar/Workshop and at the same time tries to explore deeper by examining some conceptual, empirical and theoretical framework of the subject matter under discussion. This paper will at the end draw its implications, prospects and solutions to the Child Marriage from the findings earlier examined.
It is hoped that this paper will provide students, parents, government, academics, Human Rights Activists and Religious leaders with sufficient knowledge on Child Marriage. However, the objective is to enlighten all stakeholders especially the lawmakers whose responsibility is to make law for law and order that can stand the test of time and guarantee peace in our nation. All data used are secondary and we shall employ content analysis in our presentation, analysis and conclusions thereof.