The debate over ‘child marriage’ that took place in the senate has triggered off some mixed feelings from some northern youths, who have advised senators to brace to their responsibilities and stop breeding religious division in the country.
This is as the wife of the Ekiti State Governor, Mrs. Bisi Fayemi, urged more men and women of good conscience, civil society organisations, feminists and social justice crusaders to lend their voice to the ongoing outrage on the move by the Senate to legalise child marriage.
However, the Arewa Youths Forum (AYF), while stressing that the debate had heated up the polity based on religious and ethnic lines, pointed out that the approach to the issue by the Senate showed how insensitive they were to the critical challenges facing Nigerians.
In a statement signed by its President, Gambo Gujungu, the group said the Senate should be told, “that their core functions as parliamentarians is not to debate, moderate or decide religions for Nigerians, or to divide Nigerians on Christian to Muslim basis or North and South fractions. But to make laws for peace, order and governance, stability and indivisibility of the Nigerian Federation as contained in Part II, Section Four (1,2,3) of the 1999 Constitution.”
The added that what Nigerians expected was principled oversight functions: to address insecurity tearing the country, the increasing unemployment rate, collapse of health, education, agriculture sectors and dilapidated infrastructure.
“Another expectation is, to address monumental corruption and fraud perpetrated with impunity by elected public office holders and career government officials that hold Nigeria captive from any meaningful development.
“To reduced Senate to religious moderation centre and place of petite issues that divides citizens on religious and ethnic lines and not arm of government that should confront our national challenges, is such a pity and unwarranted display of insensitivity by Senators at the expense of national resources,” they stated
They then appeal to the National Assembly to do all that’s possible to ensure that Nigerians practice their faiths without harassment, limit and intimidation.
Meanwhile, Fayemi, in a statement signed by her Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Akin Oyedele, described the lawmakers move as self-serving and at variance with all international conventions and protocols on the rights of the child, which Nigeria has ratified.
In calling for a sustained protest against the move by the Senate to expunge Section 29 sub-section B from the constitution, Fayemi said the lawmakers should channel their energy towards strengthening laws that promote the wellbeing of the child.
She said: “I am not only disappointed in the decision by the Senate. As a mother, I am ashamed, I am unhappy and I am pained that our senators, who also have female children, will vote for child marriage.
“This is time in the country’s history when men and women of good conscience, civil society organisations, feminists and social justice crusaders should stand up to be counted among those vehemently protesting against the decision.
“Instead of this self-serving amendment to Section 29 B of the constitution, our lawmakers should devote more time to legislate on laws that protect the child against violence, exploitation and labour, harmful traditional practices, abuse and denial of education.”
For instance, she said Article 1 of the United Nations Convention of Rights of the Child, which Nigeria ratified, defined a child as every human being (male or female) below the age of 18 years. Some states in the country, including Ekiti, have also domesticated the convention,
The UN convention clarified that anybody below the age of 18 may be deemed not to be a child “unless the law of his or her country deems him or her to be an adult at an earlier age, which is rare.”
She called on the National Assembly to encourage states yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act to do so, with a further call for the promotion and enforcement of the law in states where they already exist.
Besides the social implication of hounding child girls into early marriage, including denial of childhood and teenage development, she said that there are inherent health hazards in child marriage.
According to her, the National Demographic Health Survey said about 12,000 women were known to develop Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) every year in Nigeria, a good number of who are said to be young, short teenage girls of poor social economic background.