The friends I have said this to are not above the age of 23. It seems like a joke, something to laugh at, but stop for a minute and think: if a 23-year-old could be a grandmother, how old was she when she had her kids? It might seem a bit of an exaggeration, but please, get the message: a lot of underage girls are being forced into early marriages, especially in the Northern part of Nigeria.
It is what we hear. It hasn’t happened to any of our sisters or friends or relatives probably because they have parents who are exposed and educated and generally because it is not societally accepted in the south, and so we read it on the news and end with the Nigerian mantra, “Eyah! Nawa o! This Nigeria sef. Man don tire.” And then we might even go ahead to coin funny memes and make light the issue.
The reason for child marriages in the North has been attributed to a number of factors: poverty, inexposure, ignorance and so on. The parents have no idea they are doing their daughters more harm than good; they feel it’s an age long custom their forefathers practiced and so it is all right. They have no idea what the psychological, physical and biological effects of forced womanhood are.
Why don’t we shake some tables? The educated amongst them send their children overseas to gain mastery at whatever they want to and then refuse to educate the ignorant amongst them. Their sons are the center of attraction for the ladies while they send the ignorant ones to wear bombs and blow themselves up to tiny little pieces. Let’s see what our laws have to say about this issue.
Nigeria has a law that forbids early and premature marriages. The Child’s Right Act (CRA) Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution has the very pleasant fundamental human rights that cover the children also. By virtue of Section 3 of the CRA, the provisions of Cap IV of the Constitution cater to the Nigerian child also as if expressly written in the CRA.
Nigeria has a plethora of laws, very good laws that are not being executed. The Child’s Right Act is one very important law that is being suffocated in Nigeria. This is how it works: a federal law that is supposed to apply to the whole nation cannot be enforceable in a state when the subject matter it is addressing is on the residual list in our constitution, and except that state domesticates it. Take the Children’s (Child’s) Rights Act 2003, for instance. It is a federal law (but children’s rights matters are exclusive to the state government) and as such, left to the mercy of states to either discretionarily domesticate it so it is applicable in such states or just ignore it.
The Act was adopted by Nigeria from the UN’s Convention on the rights of a Child. It spells out the actions prohibited as concerns a child and generally caters for the protection of the rights and responsibilities of a child. So far, only 24 States in Nigeria have domesticated this act, while a weighty number of northern states have refused to do so. Obviously, it is against the irritating desires of their grown men. How can you set a trap before a rat and still give the rat the choice to enter the trap or walk away unharmed?
The repercussion of this is that a girl child can be married off in the states that have domesticated this law and the elderly parties involved will be arrested, while if the same thing happens in the states that have not accepted this law, people would clap and eat party rice and wish an 8-year-old girl a happy married life. What time does she have to build castles with sand? Bathe in the rain? Play mummy and daddy? Braid her doll’s hair? Get quality education? What time does she have to be a child and enjoy childhood before being whisked away to face the harsh realities of life under the rolling belly of a father-like figure? What use is the influence of educated northern politicians and lawmakers? Especially the females.
This is the true meaning of feminism, not arguing about who should cook egusi soup in the house. The rich? What are we doing? Why then are we influential? The act has very lovely laws embedded in its sections, why deprive young children of the chance to be young? Any law that kicks against a child being young until it is pertinent or it is time that he or she grows up is barbaric!
By virtue of S.14 (1) of the act, no child is to be separated from his parents against his wish. But when a child is adorned with matrimonial attire and sent off to bear children, the very same thing the aforementioned section prohibits is openly done with a thousand and one nods of approval and nothing can be done. SS.21-23 of the act prohibits child betrothal, child marriage, and pins the lawful age for marriage at age 18 years and places a 5-year imprisonment or/with a ₦500,000 fine as punishment. Saddening that even with such laws, some people still openly perpetuate the disgusting act of child marriage and betrothing a baby girl to a baby boy or even worse, a baby girl to a man many years her elder.
For issues as important as this, I suggest the constitution be amended and have the prohibition against child marriage expressly written therein. The constitution is the grundnorm and every other law must bow before it. By virtue of S.1, the constitution is supreme. Any law contrary to it is to be null and void. If our constitution expressly states that child marriage and its likes are prohibited, then states will have no option but to conform because the constitution doesn’t need the permission of a state’s legislature to be effective in such states.
Also, when laws such as the CRA passes the federal level, they should become automatically enforceable throughout the nation, or take out such very sensitive issues from the residual to the exclusive list. What is the use then if the very states that should have this law operative therein have refused to welcome it? Easier said than done? Then why do we have the legislature? Are they there to haul chairs and dispense blows whenever there is a disagreement? Why are they there if they are not working? Nigerians have the power to repeal and recall. It is high time we sat up and had some “koinonia” with our rights as the electorate and imbibe the true spirit of democracy. Give the girl child a chance to be a child. We can help by spreading the word, speaking up, proposing bills that would help, anything!
Photo Credit: Dreamstime