I always try not to join in the public frenzy whenever a very hot topic is at stake. What’s the use adding to the cacophony of voices and misinformation all over the place? Everyone will now be signing silly petitions that never do anything. Going for protest walks, and ‘Occupying the country’, I feel things like these are a massive waste of time and energy, but this is besides the issue.
Concerning the new trend on this child bride matter, I have been pushed to say something.
According to Vanguard Newspapers website on Tuesday 16th of July 2013, the Senate convened in the House Chambers to discuss and vote on the ongoing constitution review. There were 31 clauses to review, the requirement is two-third of the 109 senators must be in assent before any modification can be made, that is, 73 votes are needed before any of the modified clauses can be passed into law, if they do not get up to this required 73 the clauses won’t be passed and that part of the constitution remains the same untouched. If the required votes are obtained, the clause is passed and the constitution review is moved to the lower house(House of Representatives) to continue the exercise.
A few issues were revisited, even after votes have been passed on them, and they were voted on again. The most controversial matter that caused a serious ripple in the house that day was the one raised by Senator Yerima (the same man who became popular after being alleged to have married a 13 year old Egyptian girl some years ago). According to the Senator, the Senate President allowed the House to revisit issues raised by other Senators but he refused to allow them revisit the issue he raised which, if passed, will infringe on the rights of Muslims in the country regarding marriage.
This hot issue particularly concerns Section 29 of the present CFRN, 1999. Subsection 4(b) which stipulates that any married person will be presumed to be of full age.
Section 29 is part of Chapter 3 of the Constitution which talks about citizenship. This section provides for renouncing one’s citizenship status, that anyone who renounces his citizenship must be of full age, the fourth subsection, which is the one in contention now (even if many of those who are making a furore out of it do not know what they’re haggling about), refers to the age required to be able to validly renounce his citizenship
(4) For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section.
(a) “full age” means the age of
eighteen years and above;
(b) any woman who is married shall
be deemed to be of full age.
The subsection, apparently, was initially modified to exclude this (b) proviso, until Yarima brought it back to fore and claimed that it’s prejudicial to Islamic adherents.
This brings the question of what part of Islamic law it’s infringing on, and how that adjustment is bringing the prejudice.
Now, let’s assume this (b) paragraph of Subsection 4 was actually still excluded, how does that affect Islam and its marital laws?
The exclusion means that there will be no presumption of full age anymore once the woman is married, this means that the girl is not free to renounce her citizenship, whether she’s married or not, making the sole requirement for capacity for this as 18 years of age..
Concerning Islam and marriage, I’ll refer to here, here and here for some comprehensive understanding, but to the germane part that’s relevant to this discourse, I’ll quote Dr Bilal Philips, an acclaimed Islamic scholar;
‘The concept of child marriage, of course in Islam, if a person classified as a child is married, when they reached the age of puberty and maturity, then they have a right to choose whether to go on with that marriage or not. So it becomes a marriage on paper. You know, they take place on paper on agreements with families; it is not going to be done again between individuals where the possibility of exploitation is, you know, more prevalent; but once the person reaches of age, it could be between two young people or could be a younger person and an older person, you know, either way male-female, female-male and when they reach that age of puberty then the decision is theirs. I know there has been something in the newspaper quite recently also, you know, concerning there is a girl in some place in the States who is about 13 years old got married, you know; it was a big thing to do that , particularly in the States; that State doesn’t have clear laws prohibiting it. So there was a big uproar about it, you know. But it had been going on for quite a long time … in the previous century the nineteenth, eighteenth … this is something not uncommon. The desire to want to protect young people is a genuine desire; but where, you know, families are involved, people are not being forced etc, then this is not something which should be looked at in the negative light.’
Let us bring out some points from the above,
…when they reached the age of puberty and maturity, then they have a right to choose whether to go on with that marriage or not…
….The desire to want to protect young people is a genuine desire; but where…people are not being forced…then this is not something which should be looked at in
the negative light.
So, there. Islam allows marrying a child, but the marriage is more or less practically nothing until the child is of age to give consent, and her consent is sine qua non to the existence of the union, this requirement exists anytime before or during the subsistence of the marriage. On whether or not Senator Yerima had sought consent of his 13-year old wife, well, I don’t know. Until I know, I choose not to comment on that.
One thing we should however note is that this Constitutional provision in 29(4)(b) applies ONLY TO THAT SECTION of the Constitution. It does not state in any way that this is what the law says about who is a child or who isn’t, it just says that so and so are the people that can renounce their citizenship, it doesn’t have force in other aspects of legal life. The statement For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section. isn’t there simply for fun
So why should the provision stay?
Personally, I opine that the provision should not be removed, and it should be retained as Yerima clamoured for, although our reasons are not pari-pasu. Yerima argues for the provision to stay because it affects the tenets of Islamic law, I prefer for it to stay because I feel it’s appropriate for that section. If one is married as a minor for whatever reason, she is already thrown the responsibility of an adult, now refusing a married young female the right to renounce her citizenship after being married appears to me to be unfair. My reasons are explained in more colourful detail by a gentleman in this article.
Why all these? You ask.
I simply wish to correct some misguided information flowing over social networks and the internet in general. I’m probably going to be crucified for this, but then…
From my understanding of the correct news sources:
– The Senate is not passing a bill to sanction, approve, rationalise or assent to underage marriage.
– The Provision of Section 29(b)(4) CFRN exists strictly for the purposes of citizenship matters and it is not a constitutional allowance to marry child brides, rather I see it is a provision that seeks to protect them and their rights to choose.
– No part of the constitution, to my knowledge directly rationalised marriage or sex with minors
– There is nothing to show that Senator Yerima wishes to push promulgation of a clause that allows child marriage.
– The Child Rights Act is a statute that exists for the purpose of protecting the interest of the Nigerian Child, the legislature has done a decent job of passing a comprehensive Act to protect the child, it remains the problem is of enforcement, which is not really their cup of tea.
This public outcry is only fuelled by the fact that Yerima is a Senator who was one of those at the forefront of establishing Shariah law, and also that he was said to have married a 13-year old kid. So, he’s a bit of a notorious man, and any action of his will be met with intense cynicism.
What is even more disconcerting is that, there are other important issues which are being conveniently and ignorantly ignored by the general public, worthy of heavy outcry equal to this one being displayed. These issues are quietly being deliberated upon by these same Senators and its ramifications will affect the political and democratic structure of this country in a very huge way. One of them is the provision of terms of office of executives, this is currently being deliberated upon and it is possible that we may end up having a person staying in executive office of president and state governor for six years if the amendment is approved.
The single most important issue that I also find disturbing is the intention of this House to strip the president the power assent to any amendment of the constitution, and grant outright power of the legislature to make any bill passed into law irrespective of presidential assent. If passed, the implication of this is that, the men of this House (who have been proven from time to time to be composed of dishonourable men) will be granted free reign to make laws and modify any part of our present laws, including the constitution, to suit their purposes without having the president to at least vet these laws and grant assent.
Another issue being ignored in this exercise is the inclusion of former Senate President and Deputy Senate President as well as former Speaker and Deputy speakers of the
House of Representatives in life-time pension, this means that in addition to the huge money they’re making from the nation, they’ll be fed from the nation’s purse for the rest of their lives, all four of these men. Once you become any of these, you won’t ever have cause to worry about money. Yet there are more hardworking pensioners who have not received a kobo in graduate for their years of service to the nation.
In the end, majority of the Senators, rightly in my opinion, voted in support of the retention of this proviso, and it remains.
Before you join the crowd with public shouts of protest and online petitions through the web social networks, please try to understand the issue and don’t just be part of the bandwagon.
I am not in support of Yerima or his seemingly peculiar perspective to marriage, what I just seek for is a decent understanding of the matter at hand.
I hope I have been able to not confuse you.
Do you think I’m wrong? Do you have a question? Do you have a dissenting opinion? Do you think there are issues I ignored in this article? Do you have any correction to make? I expect you do. Please let us know in the comment section below and you’ll be responded to immediately.
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