Early Marriage: Minister Urges Senate to Delete Controversial Clause

Minister of Women Affairs, Hajiya Zainab Maina

The Minister of Women Affairs, Hajiya Zainab Maina, has called on the Senate to revisit the controversial Section 29 (4)(b) of the 1999 Constitution and delete it in its entirety due to its discriminatory nature.

The clause, which states “Any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age,” promotes gender inequality and can make an underage married girl to be charged under criminal law, she said.

Maina, while briefing journalists on constitution review matters in Abuja yesterday, emphasised that it was necessary to clear the air on what the issues really were.
“The section up for amendment has to do with persons qualified to renounce Nigerian citizenship, and not the issue of underage marriage,” she elaborated.

The minister, who was flanked by representatives of women groups, noted that citizenship was and should remain gender neutral and be safeguarded from cultural, religious and social interpretations or connotations.

“Every well meaning Nigerian citizen should openly support and ensure the removal of this provision that provides that young Nigerian girls who are not old enough to vote or to obtain a driver’s licence are somehow old enough to renounce their citizenship,” Maina said.

This, she said, was at variance with all international protocols on the rights of the child which define “a child as anyone who is below the age of 18.

“The controversy was cause by some people who wanted to be mischievous to satisfy their personal interests. Nigeria is bigger than any individual,” she added.

The former Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs Josephine Anenih, who was also at the briefing, lamented that Senator Ahmed Yerima, chose to introduce religious sentiments into an issue that had nothing to do with religion.

“Renunciation of citizenship is a grave matter that should not be trifled with, a person must understand the ramifications of such act. How can a person who is less than 18 have the mental capacity to take such a decision?” she asked.

She appealed to the media to educate the public on what the issues really were as introducing religion into the mix could create problems among the populace.

The Secretary General of Women Rights Advancement and Protection Agenda (WRAPA), Hajiya Saudatu Mahdi, said the agency was working with other women groups under the aegis of the Gender and Constitution Women Network to lobby for the deletion of the clause.

“Gender should not be a determinant here, a woman should not be singled out to be able to renounce her citizenship just because she is married,” Mahdi said.

The rationale thinking that made the Senate consider the deletion in the first instance should be re-deployed, she added.

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