Nigeria and the ills of child marriage

on   /   in Special Report 12:52 am   /   Comments

The Kano child-bride suspected of killing husband, friends as case study

By Funmi Ajumobi

Wasila Umar, a 14-year-old child bride, made news in April when she killed her husband and four of his friends through food poisoning.

Wasila’s case as a child bride was not the first but attracted public attention because it resulted to murder after 17 days of marriage to her husband. She alleged it was a forced marriage to a man she did not love and didn’t want to have relationship with. This was purely a violation of the right of the girl.

No girl should be robbed of her childhood, her education and health, and her aspirations. Child marriage is increasingly recognized as a violation of the rights of girls for the following reasons:

*Effectively ending their education
*Blocking any opportunity to gain vocational and life skills
*Exposing them to the risks of too-early pregnancy, child bearing, and motherhood before they are *physically and psychologically ready

*Increasing their risk of intimate partner sexual violence and HIV infection
The  right to ‘free and full’ consent to a marriage is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) prohibits child marriage.

Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), governments have committed to ensure the overall protection of children and young people aged under 18. Child  marriage and the range of rights implications it has  substantially infringe the protection.

Here, one could argue that it is Islam that encourages child brides. However, Islam alone is not sufficient to explain why child brides exist in such a wide geography that spans in the North.

In as much as Islamic marital jurisprudence regulates the marriage contract (Nikah), one could argue that it is people who participate in the practice and give (verbal or written) consent to the signing of the contract that should be looked into. However, the situation requires us to ask whether participation is voluntary or forced and the consent, the act of a free individual or an act of compliance.

In Islam, according to research, the Nikah requires consenting partners. In theory, Islam does not encourage forced marriages—it annuls them but in practice, the boundaries of consent are blurred. Could we argue that every “Yes” translates into consent?

On the contrary, in many cases, those participating in the practice are given no other chance than to participate, which reduces their consent to mere formality. It is not a 14-year-old girl that is making the decision here. The decision is taken on behalf of her by the family, relatives or the community.

In Nigeria, particularly northern Nigeria has some of the highest rates of early marriage in the world. The Child Rights Act, passed in 2003, raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 for girls.

However, federal law may be implemented differently at the state level, and to date, only a few of the country’s 36 states have developed provisions to execute the law and those who have developed it are not doing anything to implement it.

To further complicate matters, Nigeria has three different legal systems operating simultaneously—civil, customary, and Islamic—and state and federal governments have control only over marriages that take place within the civil system.

Unfortunately the persistent under- aged marriage especially in the North, according to a UNICEF report, is that six out of the eight-point agenda for the world achievement on Millennium Developmental Goals by 2015 would not be achieved unless something urgent is done.

This simply means  the international community will not achieve its commitment to reduce global poverty unless it tackles child marriage. As the world celebrates Children’s Day on Tuesday, one thing is clear: Under the Sharia law practised in Kano State, Wasila’s social injustice should be looked into.

    Print       Email