NIGERIA: Senator who 'married girl of 13' accused of breaking Child Rights Act

Summary: Nigerian human rights groups claim Senator Ahmed Yerima's child bride undermines protection for legal status of children.

[25 July 2013] - 

A Nigerian senator who is said to have married a 13-year old girl has blocked attempts to modernise the constitution, campaigners say, and implicitly endorsed child marriage.

Nigeria's Senate has voted to keep a law that equates married girls to adults, even if they are under 18, and gives them the right to renounce their citizenship. Critics say that the law could be used to support child marriage.

"This clause implicitly endorses child marriage," said Toyin Saraki, founder of the WellBeing Foundation Africa, one of the groups that is calling for the Senate to change the law.

"I cannot see any justification for the retention of a rule which makes a special status of girls who are brides and wants to construe them as adults," she said.

"The only thing that every Nigerian has, by virtue of their birth, is their citizenship. Renouncing that is something that should be done by an informed adult, and not a minor – whether male or female.

"Our constitution is moving towards the word 'person' – it remains a huge anomaly to retain a law that is gender specific."

The amendment would not actually legalise child marriage in Nigeria, which is already prohibited under the Child Rights Act. But the perception that Nigeria's legislators are undermining protection for the legal status of children has sparked widespread debate in the country.

Nigerians started tweeting using the hashtag "#ChildNotBride", with tweets such as: "Every self-respecting man and woman should speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves."

The amendment has sparked a particular backlash against the senator widely regarded as responsible for the decision, Ahmed Yerima, who is reported to have married a 13-year old Egyptian girl. Yerima has denied the girl is 13.

One human rights group, Women Empowerment and Legal Aid, has given a 30-day ultimatum to Nigeria's attorney-general, Mohammed Adoke, to prosecute Yerima.

"We are saying that Senator Yerima must be prosecuted for violating the Child Rights Act and marrying a 13-year old," said Funmi Falana from Women Empowerment and Legal Aid. "This is such a sad case. You cannot marry an underage girl in Egypt, so he brought her to Nigeria where nobody will do anything. That has to change."

"Not only has he violated the law, but he is making the law for all the rest of us. There must be consequences," Falana added.

The Senate moved to quell the growing controversy surrounding the provisions, saying that it was not principally about marriage.

Ike Ekweremadu, deputy leader of the Senate, said at a press briefing in Abuja: "I want to appeal to Nigerians to please show understanding, to possibly read this section and understand that the issue has nothing to do with early marriage.

"Essentially, it has to do with the renunciation of citizenship. So you have to give it a proper perspective. I want to assure them that in the future, we are ready to revisit it if Nigerians feel strongly about it.





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