By Kayode Ketefe
There are a number of things that are wrong with the 1999 Constitution, even as amended. The only amendments we have had so far relate to the electoral reforms and recognition of National Industrial Court as a superior court of record.
None of the much more important human rights issues like the enforceability of socio-economic rights, women’s rights, and removal of certain obnoxious provisions from the constitution has seen the light of the day.
Specifically, this writer has written series on why many provisions of the constitution are violative of women’s rights and the imperative for amendment, but none of these, like the agitations of the larger civil society, has till date swayed the lawmakers.
For example, Section 29 of the constitution which makes provisions on renunciation of Nigeria’s citizenship features in its Subsection 4 (b) a rather discriminatory proviso that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age”.
The implication of this is that the Constitution indirectly recognises child marriage as it bestows legal capacity of an adult to any girl that is married even if she just nine years of age!
Besides, the provision is also discriminatory as there is no such presumption of adulthood for boys and thus this is contrary to section 42 of the same Constitution which forbids discrimination on the grounds of sex, among others. The agitations of many human rights groups for the removal of
this obnoxious clause have hitherto been ignored.
Then, there came a ray of hope when the Senate Committee on the Constitutional Review recently recommended the removal of the offensive section. We also heard the cheering news that the Plenary Senate session had approved the expurgation of the section with 75
votes (which was even two votes more than the necessary two-thirds requirement, that is 73 votes).
But all of a sudden, there was a legislative abracadabra as the Senate revisited the issue and conducted fresh voting where it could no longer obtain two-thirds necessary votes to effect the amendment of the section! We were told that the reason for this unusual legislative procedure was that one Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima raised objection that the removal of the section would be against the tenets of Islam.
In a nutshell, the Senate was stuck with status quo ante and could not expunge the controversial proviso. Contrary to the submission of Yerima which actuated the Senate to erroneously beat a legislative retreat, many informed scholars on Islamic jurisprudence have insisted that Islam never sanctions marrying off under-age girls.
For example, a human rights activist and the wife of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, has said there is nothing in Islam that supports the under-age marriage. She said “Contrary to the position conveyed by the Senator from Zamfara, there is certainly no unanimity of positions on such contemporary matters of social interaction, within Islamic jurists or the various Schools of Thought.
Surely where there is ‘silence in the texts’ (i.e. primary sources) or lack of unanimity as regards a particular practice, that opening allows for a society to determine for itself what is in its best interest (maslaha), in its own context.”
Human societies have over the age treated practical existentialist contingencies with diverse responses. The culture of marrying off underage girls and polygamy are all emanations of the same cultural and sociological factors. In the olden days when many societies engaged in numerous adventures that were perilous to the male population like seafaring and warfare, there invariably followed disproportion in male-female statistics in such societies.
Thus, a demographic problem of superfluous female population ensued, necessitating expedient responses like polygamy to take care of the extra women. The culture of child marriage became an offshoot of polygamy after the latter had became entrenched in order to ensure constant supply of marriageable material to support polygamy!
Today, modernity has helped many societies to root out the accumulated behaviours spawned by past expediencies, but there are enough ignoramuses among us who would insist child marriage is our culture! We now know that there are a lot of physical, health, psychological and even economic reasons why young girls should not be married off at tender age.
Many civilised countries specifically stipulate the age of attainment of adulthood and the attendant capacity to marriage to be 18 or 21 while others leave it, supposedly to the informed and moral decision of their populaces.
Frankly, a girl undergoing pubertal changes is ill-adapted to strenuous conditions of gestation and this often cause physical and emotional damage to the young woman.
The arising complications may also cause infant mortality, morbidity, the dreaded Vesicovaginal fistula or even death. Besides, rushing young girls into marital responsibilities at a time they should learn a trade, get formal education or be indentured to a vocation would result in economic deprivations of these youngsters later in life.
Their counterparts who have made a more auspicious opportunity cost of their time would be economically empowered and busy counting money while the deprived girls keep counting babies!
Certainly, history would not be fair to those Senators who saw the opportunity to improve the lots of their endangered compatriots and allowed it to pass by.
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