This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Fayemi, Groups Condemn Senate's Position On Underage Marriage Law

Abeokuta — The wife of the Ekiti State Governor, Mrs. Bisi Fayemi, Thursday criticised the Senate for voting against the proposed amendments to the Constitution which forbids underage marriage in Nigeria.

The Senate had recently approved the marriage of under-aged children, irrespective of their age in the country. The new law, according to the Senate, would proscribe the 18 year-old rule for any Nigerian child to qualify for marriage.

Speaking in Ado-Ekiti at the second annual public lecture organised by Women and Children Development and Health Research Initiative in collaboration with the Ekiti Development Foundation.

While expressing disgust at the action, the governor's wife said such would further cause a decline in female access to education in Nigeria.

Fayemi was reacting to Wednesday's debate at the Senate, where Senators had reversed a vote appeared to outlaw underage marriage in the ongoing constitution amendment , particularly the amendment to Section 29(a) of the 1999 Constitution that pegs the full age to 18.

She urged the women folk to rise up and reject the Senate's action, which she described as inimical to the growth and liberation of female gender in the country.

"I am seriously disappointed that the senators could reverse the vote that would have outlawed underage marriage.

"I want to charge the women to rise up and reject the action by pressing for the criminalisation of early marriage in Nigeria," she said.

The Gender and Constitution Reform Network (GECORN), a coalition of women rights' organisations across the country yesterday rejected Senate's resolution on underage marriage.

Another group, the Nigerian Feminist Forum (NFF) also called on the National Assembly to reconsider their resolution to remove age limitation of women in marriage.

However, a statement signed by the National Coordinator of the group, Ms Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, made available to journalists in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital, rejected the argument of Senator Ahmed Yerima, that the proposal for the deletion of section 29 (4)(b), which states that "any woman who is married shall be deemed of full age" is at variance with Islamic law.

She said: "We, therefore, urge the Senate to reconsider its position and call on the House of Representative to show progressive leadership by failing to concur on this provision and others that might retard the progress of this country.

"The constitution of Nigeria is the supreme law of the country, while we hail the constitution review process led by the Senate and the House of Representatives. We reject the argument of Senator Ahmed Yerima that the proposal for the deletion of section 29 (4)(b) which states that "any woman who is married shall be deemed of full age."

Meanwhile, Geraldyn Ezeakile, who is one of the leaders of the forum, said the Senate intended to scrap age limitation of women in marriage, "while deleting the section from the draft Constitution, the Senate claimed that a woman is deemed to be of (full age) once she is married irrespective of the age she did so."

"This decision of the senate in the ongoing constitutional review process will remove the age specification of women who can marry and would further deem a woman to be of 'full age' once she is married, irrespective of the age she did so," she said.

Ezeakile said the action was a clear violation of Article 21(2) of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which prohibits child marriage and betrothal as well as Article 6(b) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa which provides that the minimum age of marriage for women is 18 years.

This act, the forum through her, also stressed violates Section 21 of the Child's Rights Act of Nigeria which forbids the marriage of persons below 18 years of age and imposes a punishment of N500, 000 or a five year jail term.

She noted that the act also violates Article 18 (3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples', as well as Article 27 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

The forum, therefore, called on the African Commission to urge the federal government to fulfil its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, stressing that the essence and true nature of the protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa should be observed.

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