Campaigners seek removal of constitutional provision that 'condones' child marriage

Campaigners describe the sub-section as an anomaly that poses a danger to underage girls.

Tens of thousands of girls in Nigeria are married off before the age of 18 (image used for illustration) [Business Post]

Even though Section 29(4)(a) of the constitution stipulates that a Nigerian of 'full age' is someone that is 18 years and above, Section 29(4)(b) also recognises any woman who is married to be of full age.

The scope of the controversial sub-section is limited to the renunciation of Nigerian citizenship, but it has long been criticised as an implicit legitimatisation of child marriage.

A motion to delete it during a similar review of the constitution in 2013 initially passed, but was later overturned after then Senator Ahmed Yerima said it discriminated against Muslim women who are considered of full age once they are married.

The Constitution does not explicitly establish a minimum age of marriage, and the Child Rights Act of 2003, which sets the legal age of marriage at 18, has not been fully adopted by all states in the country where tens of thousands of girls, especially in the northern region, are being married off before the age of 18.

While making presentations to the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution in Lagos, many proposed that the sub-section be completely scrapped to clearly state the age of maturity in the country as 18.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Youth Party (YP), and the Network of Individuals and Women (Wo-Manifestoes) all made submissions before the committee on Wednesday, May 26, and Thursday, May 27, 2021.

NHRC's Lagos Coordinator, Lucas Koyejo, described the sub-section as an anomaly that poses a danger to underage girls across the country when he made his presentation on Wednesday.

Youth Party and Network of Individuals and Women (Wo-Manifestoes) made similar submissions on Thursday, asking that the sub-section be deleted.

"Section 29(4) signals to the world indirectly that Nigeria supports child marriages. Section 29 (4) has to be deleted," Prof. Ayodele Atsenuwa, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Development Services) of the University of Lagos, said on behalf of Wo-Manifestoes, a coalition of over 300 Individuals and networks.

The public hearings also simultaneously held at 11 other centres across the country where members of the public submitted proposals for amendment of the constitution.

Dozens of organisations and individuals presented their proposals to the Senate Committee, with the most common topics revolving around gender equality, restructuring, and devolution of power from the Federal Government to the State and Local Governments.

Some also proposed that the 1999 constitution be completely scrapped and replaced with a new citizens-led constitution.

Before proposed amendments can become law, they will have to be passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives, two-thirds of all 36 States' Houses of Assembly, and signed by the president.

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