Under-age Marriage Loophole Allowed Into Nigerias Constitution

July 24, 2013 by Open Doors in General

Under-age Marriage Loophole Allowed Into Nigeria's Constitution

During the July 16th Nigerian Senate’s debate on long-awaited amendments which were drawn up by the Constitution Review Committee to reflect the needs of a changing Nigeria, now Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima, who was the first Governor to introduce sharia law into a Nigerian State, successfully blocked the removal of a Constitutional clause that critics say allows the marriage of under-age girls possible under sharia law.

The clause says that any married woman is recognized as being “of age” and thus able to give up their Nigerian citizenship. Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima, a controversial Muslim figure, was the most powerful defender of the clause. Critics argue that his victory leaves a loophole permitting under-age marriage in spite of Nigeria’s present policy that holds 18 as the legal age.
Senator Yerima argued against the removal of the clause, insisting that, under Islamic tenets, a woman is of age once married, and to counter that order would be discriminatory and in violation of another section of the Constitution.

Under Article 61, of the Second Schedule of the Nigerian Constitution, the Nigerian Government has no power to legislate on “marriages under Islamic law and customary law including matrimonial causes relating thereto.”

“The Constitution says the National Assembly shall legislate on marriage except those under Islamic rites,” declared the former Governor. “Islam says once a woman is married, she is of age.”

The Senator’s procedural success has been attacked in part because in 2009 he himself married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, as his 4th wife, causing widespread outrage. (He had previously married another 13-year-old, and divorced one wife before she was 18).

However, even though Nigeria’s Child Rights Act of 2003 designates that “a child is anyone below the age of 18,” the court ruled that since he acted in accordance with sharia, the stipulations of Article 61 limited the court’s authority to rule on the matter. After all, “History tells us that the Prophet did marry a young girl as well.”

Some fear retaining the clause could allow under-age girls the right to vote, and leave them vulnerable to manipulation or coercion in how they use it. Human rights activists representing Christians living in “sharia” states fear that if the Constitution retains this loophole for recognition of under-age marriage, Christian girls abducted for forced marriages will have less protection.

Confirming those fears, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) reports a recent rise in forced abductions of under-age Christian girls, who are being forcibly converted to Islam. They have even been kept in the homes of emirs or radical religious leaders, some of whom are linked to Boko Haram. CAN Secretary Daniel Babayi reports that it is currently working on five cases on behalf of kidnapped girls’ families, but “when we report a case to the police, the officers respond that they cannot do anything. Sometimes we believe they are complicit.”

Abiola Afolabi-Akiode, Coordinator of the Gender and Constitution Reform Network, (GECORN), described the resolution as a serious setback, not only for women, but also for all Nigerians. “We ask, is the Senate saying that a 13-year-old girl has the mental capacity to renounce her citizenship? Thus, we argue that Senator Ahmed Yerima basing his argument solely on child marriage is treacherous and a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the intention of the 1999 Constitution,” she said. “So this kind of law will just legalize the abuse of children in the country… How the table now turned against the children of Nigeria is what we don’t understand.”

Father, once again we lift up Christians in Nigeria, especially in the north where they are surrounded by Muslim extremists. We take heart in the midst of what seems to be a setback, knowing that what Satan intends for ill, You work for the good of Your church there. Protect them from attack, especially the young Christian girls from kidnappers who would convert them to Islam. Hear the cries of Your people. Cause a powerful work of Your Spirit to fall upon this Nation that Your church there might rise up with a mighty voice to worship You in truth. In the name of Jesus who understands the struggle of His people and is powerful to act. Amen.

Source: World Watch Monitor

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