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Child Rights Acts: Before the curtain falls for the girl child

ALMOST everything about Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima, seems controversially different. He was the first Northern governor to introduce Sharia legal system, which was later described as political sharia by ex- President Olusegun Obasanjo. He was reported to have married a 15-year-old girl named Hauwa’u as his fourth wife in 2006 after he allegedly forced her to drop out of school at Junior Secondary School class 3.

Hauwa’u was recently divorced to pave way for a 13-year Egyptian, he recently married.  In fact, the former governor of Zamfara State, has continued to attract different controversies.

Today, men and women across the country want the long hand  of the law to catch up with him. These ‘crucify him’ calls are borne out of the fact that in 2003, Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act to domesticate the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Any violation of the articles in the Act, like child marriage, is expected to be dealt with according to the laws of the federation. Charles Kumolu writes

FORMER Zamfara governor, Ahmed  Sani Yerima,  now a senator of the Federal republic was reported to have taken a 13-year-old Egyptian girl as a fourth wife and paid $100,000 (about N15 million) to her family as bride price.
The wedding which took place at the Abuja National Mosque some weeks ago and was witnessed by the girl’s family who were flown to Abuja for the ceremony had generated an uproar.

It was gathered that Sani divorced one of his four wives, Hauwa’u to make way for his Egyptian ‘heart throb’.
But this is the same  Yerima who introduced the  Sharia legal system in his state, and made life a literal hell for a common farmer, Mallam Lawali Isa , a resident of  Gummi , Zamfara State who dared to steal a cow, Yerima had his hand cut off.

It is this Yerima who is now a cradle snatcher. Since then, things have not been  the same for  him. If there is one man many a Nigeria want the law to deal with, it is Sani Yerima.

But without batting an eye lid, Yerima wonders what the hue and cry is all about. For according to him, he has done nothing morally and legally wrong to justice all the attention he has received  from the public.

“I don’t care about the issue of age since I have not violated any rule as far as Islam is concerned,” he was  quoting has saying.

” I consider all those complaining about this issue as detractors because since 1999, many people have been waging different kind of wars against me,” Yerima noted.

This defiance led many to wonder if the lawmaker is above the law and other conventions to which the nation is signatory.

A critical look at the 1990 African Charter on Human Rights and Welfare of the Child ACRWC for instance, would  reveal that the ex-governor’s argument is not right.

The charter recognises a child “as a human being below the age of 18 years. It recognises the child’s unique and privileged place in African society and that African children need protection and special care”.

Accordingly, it emphasised that “Child marriage and the betrothal of girls and boys shall be prohibited and effective action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years and make registration of all marriages in an official registry compulsory.”

ACRW also observes that children are entitled to the enjoyment of freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, thought, religion, and conscience. It aims to protect the private life of the child and safeguard the child against all forms of economic exploitation and against work that is hazardous, interferes with the child’s education, or compromises his or her health or physical, social, mental, spiritual, and moral development.

“It calls for protection against abuse and bad treatment, negative social and cultural practices, all forms of exploitation or sexual abuse, including commercial sexual exploitation, and illegal drug use. It aims to prevent the sale and trafficking of children, kidnapping, and begging of children.”

Specifically, ACRWC stressed that any custom, tradition, cultural or religious practice that is inconsistent with the rights, duties and obligations contained in the present Charter shall to the extent of such inconsistency be discouraged.

Given that 13 years fall short of the stipulated age for an adult, what this means is that Senator Yerima is married to a minor.

Little wonder the uproar was deafening . From civil society groups to the other folks on the streets, the question was the same? With a Yerima on the prowl , what future is there for the Girl child?  This  question becomes particularly pertinent when so much has been done to uplift the status of the girl child?

While the hue and cry lasted, the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters,NAPTIP, detained the lawmaker, but he remained  defiant.

According the senator : “The Child Rights Act they are talking about was brought to me in Zamfara when I was governor. My people rejected it, so did  other states in the North because it is against their religion.”
From every indication, it does appear as though NAPTIP did not find any fault with the senator so he was released on bail.

Also,  civil society groups seem to have gone to bed on the matter as nothing has been heard of the matter since the senator’s arrest and release on bail.

In 2003, Nigeria signed the Child Rights Act (CRA) into law, and Section 21 forbids the marriage or betrothal of a person under the age of 18, an offence which attracts a fine of N500,000 or five years in jail. Egyptian law also pegs the minimum age of marriage at 18.

Human Rights Activist, Bamidele Aturu, acknowledged that efforts of female senators,  deserve some level of commendation. But he insisted that the Senate which Yerima belongs to needs to be decisive on the issue.

“I understand that some female senators had lent their voices to the call  to bring  the issue to the attention of the Senate. That is below what we are expecting. There is need for the Senate to act on this. They have not done much on it.

This should go beyond what the Senate is doing now. This should not be allowed to stand,” Aturu noted with a conviction that the marriage debases the future of the child.

The argument in certain quarters is that the call for Yerima’s ‘head’ would be for nothing since, as it is, he is hiding under a religious guise to commit this heinous ‘sin’.

But Mr. Aturu does not think so.

According to him  “What he has done is totally wrong. It goes beyond Christian and Muslim issue, because even some Muslims find  the entire act outrageous. We are talking about the right of a child. Let no pedophile seek unavailable justification under religion. We are dealing with a common crime. If the Attorney General of the Federation and Inspector General of Federation will not arrest the suspect, then the interior minister should revoke the girl’s visa to show the world that we won’t tolerate child debasement.”

Like Aturu, when VF encountered the President of Women Arise,WA, Dr. Joe Oke-Odumakin, her grouse was have set the Senate on fire.

Odumakin, whose activism cut across gender lines said, “What is wrong him. He married Hauwa at a very tender age and he sent her away after few years. A thirteen- year old minor is not mature to know the implications of marriage It is wrong and illegal to marry a minor. If you check section 25 of the penal code, you will discover that the code makes that action some how criminal. We learnt that it was $100,000 that was paid. Yerima did this in 2006 and today he is repeating the same thing.”

For her, “the Senate should also find the courage to nail him if the committee finds him guilty.”
But can the Senate take on  this challenge, is one question on the lips of many.

Mrs. Josephine Effah Chukwuma, who is the Executive Director of Project Alert, PA, is not confident that the lawmakers would tow the line of public opinion on the issue.

“I don’t really expect much from them, given our experiences on how some issues are treated in Nigeria. The law court needs to pass a judicial pronouncement on it. Because it is illegal and so horrible for someone to pick up a little child like that and marry. And this is someone who should know better on the implications of child marriage. Personally, I am not expecting much from them (Senate)because he is one of them,” she fumed.

Unlike Aturu, who wants the Senator arrested, Effa told VF that if the Senate fails to act, the next step is, “to go the law court if the senators fail to do anything ge  next logical step for us to take in order to give the child right act a meaning.”
It was also gathered that the right of the child has remained vulnerable in Nigeria, especially when religion and culture interfere or clash with existing laws.

“If one has to say the truth, the child rights is not well protected under our legal framework. Yet, we have a law in the penal code that talks about defilement, rape and others. The issue is the enforcement of these laws,” Effa noted.

She observed that: “When you have dual system of laws, it makes it impossible for the system to operate fine, especially when culture and religion comes in. Imagine him saying  age is not an issue. The girl child has increasingly become more vulnerable to rape, sexual abuse and other forms of abuse in the face of existing laws. Often times, when you have cases of rape, it is treated below expectation.”

Further investigations revealed that apart from common folks,  in his part of the country, who regard him as a hero given his Sharia exploits,  the Senator’s name is a bad news.

“That man has remained controversial, he likes setting fire where there is none. We are watching him because of the sensitive nature of the issue. You know it involves religion and the law, he should have been wise enough to know it is immoral. He is giving a bad name to this country and also killing the future of that little girl,” a top politician from Yerima’s geo-political zone, confided in VF.

That was also underscored by Aturu, who sees what the former governor did, as a double defilement.
“We have double defilement now, that of the little girl and the defilement of the hallowed Chambers.  I am also of the view that apart from the illegality it, I am also of the view that it is immoral. There is no way you are going to justify what the man has done.

I am outraged, he submitted, adding that, “ the fact that he is one of the people making laws for this country, it causes much regret. If people like Yerima in this age and century, will marry a child, we really need to seat down as a people and fashion out how to deal with him. What he is doing is not just the defilement of the young teenager but also the defilement of the Senate. This is a man , who almost brought this country to its knees with his political sharia as ex-president Obasanjo rightly called it. People like this don’t care for children.”

The House of Representatives received eight petitions on the matter. Observers are curious to know what the House has done so far about the matter especially on the petitions it received.  As it is presently, the waiting game is on to see who wins this game. Yerima or the girl child.


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