Puberty Determines Maturity For Marriage, Yerima On #ChildNotBride

In an exclusive interview with Channels Television, Senator Ahmed Yerima of Zamfara state defended his position on the controversial topic #ChildNotBride, an issue he said “is all about the definition of full age”.

The removal of Section 29 (4b) of theNigerian constitution as intended by the National Assembly will leave citizens with Section 29 (4a) alone. This is against Islamic law which states that “any married woman is of full age,” he said, adding that “some don’t know that the provision is available in both the 1999 and 1979 constitutions”.

The Senator who argued his case on the floor of the Senate using Islamic laws as defense, said his position on “any woman who is married shall be deemed full of age” “is provided for in the Quran.”

He cited Chapter four of the Quran to back his argument.

He stated that the “the issue of full age was given based on the maturity, that is, age of puberty of a girl,” adding that he recently discovered that the age of puberty as defined by European laws is given as between 12 and 14.

While arguing his case, he stated that puberty is define by the start of a girl’s menstrual cycle, which may commence at age 9 and “when the breasts are fully mature”.

Asked to set a clear distinction between maturity and puberty, the Senator insisted that “a married woman is a married woman”.

The Child Right’s Act which stipulates the age of maturity as 18 “is not constitutional,” he said, insisting that “once a girl reaches the age of puberty” she is assumed to be matured and determined by her parents and ready for marriage.

On the number of his wives who are under the age of 21, he said that “so long as I don’t do any action that is against Islamic law, I am covered by the Nigerian constitution”.

Stop Defending Underage Marriage, It Is ‘Undefendable’ – Lawyer

A public affairs analyst, Michael Adeleye, has described Senator Ahmed Yerima’s arguments about the legality of marrying underage girls, as an attempt to ‘defend the undefendable’.

Speaking on Sunrise Daily, he said “When I listened to Senator Yerima, yesterday, I began to ask questions. Are we living in a society where some laws seem to supercede or reign supreme over the law of the land?”

In his opinion, if a law comes out of a religion and tries to reign supreme over the laws of the land, then I think it’s questionable.

He faulted Senator’s Yerima’s claim that the parents of a girl are the ones to ascertain her maturity. “A parent cannot ultimately decide, but they can give consent”.

Although the particular law in question, Section 29(4b) of the Nigerian constitution, addresses the issue of citizenship, Mr Adeleye argues that a 9, 10 or even 13 year old female cannot be qualified as a ‘woman’ owing to the fact that such an individual does not have the mental capacity to make important decisions.

“Do you think they’re going to be able to make a decision on what’s going to happen to their lives?

He called for a review of the Marriage Act which has not been adopted in all 36 states of the federation, while making reference to the many conventions on the standard age of marriage to which Nigeria is a signatory.

#ChildNotBride: Senate Got Its Priorities Wrong, Says SERAP

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to the Senate President David Mark “seeking urgent explanations on why the Senate chose to spend time on revisiting the sensible deletion of child marriage provision in the Constitution rather than use the time to discuss how to make citizens’ enjoyment of water, healthcare, electricity as fundamental rights.”

In the letter made available to Channels Television, the organisation said that “we are seriously concerned that the discussion in the Senate has focused rather disappointingly on how to undermine children’s internationally recognised human rights rather than how to improve the conditions of millions of Nigerians living in poverty through the entrenchment of a progressive Bill of Rights that will recognise access of Nigerians to water, healthcare, education and electricity as fundamental rights in the new constitution.”

“By failing to discuss these important issues as fundamental rights, the Senate simply ignored feedbacks from 279 constituencies across the country, and moved in the opposite direction from the House of Representatives that has discussed making citizens’ enjoyment of clean water, adequate healthcare, quality and uninterrupted education, and regular and affordable electricity as fundamental rights,” the organisation said.

The organisation also said that “given your indication to SERAP of your support for the ECOWAS court’s judgment declaring that the Nigerian government has a legal responsibility to provide as of right, free, quality and compulsory basic education to every Nigerian child, we urge to use your leadership and position to revisit these issues and to ensure that the Senate does not miss this important opportunity to end the legacy of poverty and inequality in the country by adopting a progressive Bill of Rights that includes internationally recognized human rights like education, housing, health care, water reform and social security.”

“Unless this action is urgently taken, the socio-economic legacy of the past would be perpetuated and continue to generate classes of people marginalised from full participation in our fragile democracy,” the organisation warned.

The organisation also said that, “we are seriously concerned that Nigeria is lagging behind other African countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe that adopted the Nigerian model of directive principles in 1980 but are now engaged in public debates on the inclusion of legally enforceable economic and social rights in their constitutions. Also, the South African Constitution is renowned for its inclusion of a comprehensive range of justiciable economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in its Bill of Rights.”

“We strongly believe that a simple vote, without food shelter and health care is to use first generation rights as a smokescreen to obscure the deep underlying forces which dehumanise people. It is to create an appearance of equality and justice, while by implication socio-economic inequality is entrenched. We do not want freedom without bread, nor do we want bread without freedom. Nigeria must provide for all the fundamental rights and freedoms associated with a democratic society,” the organization also said.

The organization also said that, “We believe that human dignity, freedom and equality are denied those who have no food, clothing and shelter. Affording socio-economic rights to all people therefore enables them to enjoy the other rights which are already recognised and guaranteed in our Constitution. We see the Nigerian constitution as a mirror. A mirror that should: show protection from shelters being demolished; show protection from being chased out of school or hospital queues. Guaranteeing economic and social rights in any new Nigerian Constitution would also help to address the injustice and systemic marginalisation of millions of Nigerians, and denial of access to basic necessities of life.”

The organisation also said that, “a Bill of Rights in a supreme Constitution usually sets out the fundamental values and normative commitments of a country. It functions to guide the legislative, executive and administrative conduct of the institutions of State. Furthermore, it provides a potentially powerful mechanism for civil society, communities and independent commissions to hold public, and in appropriate circumstances, private actors accountable for human rights violations. It is particularly significant in enabling marginalised groups, who lack access to political and popular power and influence, to assert and protect their fundamental interests.”

“A progressive Bill of Rights is absolutely important to the future ethical, democratic and developmental character of Nigeria. A Bill of Rights should be genuinely responsive to the aspirations of ordinary people,” the organization concluded.

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Senator Yerima Becomes Superhero

Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima is featured as a surprising superhero with the name ‘Yeriman’ in an episode of Ikenna Azuike’s What’s Up Africa which focuses on the #ChildNotBride campaign.

The Senator from Zamfara state has been the crux of online criticisms for his contribution during the debate on amending the Nigeria constitution as regards age limit for rejection of citizenship and child marriage.

The Senator is portrayed as an abridged Superman for his stance on the debate.

What’s Up Africa is a political satire on African issues hosted on Radio Netherlands Worldwide by Ikenna Azuike.

#ChildNotBride: Activist Says Nigeria Should Conform To International Standard

The National Coordinator, Gender and Constitution Network, Dr. Abiola Akiyode Afolabi has said that Nigeria’s signature to international conventions such as UN Convention on Rights of Child, Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, African Charter, African Protocol on the Rights and Welfare of a Child, demands that it conforms to the global standard which stipulates ‘the majority age of a child as 18.’

While speaking on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, the female rights activist, who was present at the Senate meeting when lawmakers voted to maintain the now controversial Section 24(4)(b) of the 1999 constitution said “the argument of the Senator (Sani Yerima) is actually unnecessary.”

The clause in question states that any woman who is married shall be deemed full of age is in reference to citizenship renunciation and not marriage, as widely misconstrued.

“It is important for us to put the facts straight. Section 29 is dealing with citizenship issue and renunciation of citizenship,” she said.

She added that “the constitution is not supposed to be addressing the issue of marriage” as stated by its exclusive list which does not allow the National Assembly to make laws related to customary and Islamic marriage.”

However, “one of the reasons why we are arguing for the deletion is also for us to ensure that we don’t have ambiguity in the constitution.”

“If Section 29(a) which says full age is 18 and above, why do you need another section determining a particular gender which can be called full aged.”

She disclosed that the culture of marrying off underage girls to men is not peculiar to Northern Nigeria as her organisation has cases of the same occurring in Lagos.

It will not suit us if we have a section in the constitution that can be misread in the manner in which Senator Sani Yerima argued.

She said that the #ChildNotBride fracas has promoted the need for Nigerians to be much more aware of what is happening in the constitution” as well as what the Senate votes for on behalf of the citizens.

Afolabi also raised the issue of inconsistencies prevalent in the different laws and regulations as regarding age of a majority.

“The immigration code has 16, under criminal code we have between 12 and 17 as the age of majority” also, the Age of Marriage Law, (1990) as drafted by the Senate stipulate the acceptable age for a citizen to marry as 18.

However, this remains a federal law applicable to the Federal Capital Territory.

Lawyer Says 18 Year-Old Is Too Young To Marry, Vote

A legal practitioner, Boye Lemiyu, has said that persons from the age of 18 and below are too young to marry or vote as that is the age of ‘experimentation’.

While speaking on Channels Television’s flagship programme, Sunrise daily, Lemiyu,explained that an 18 year old does not have the emotional capability to handle the stress that comes along with the two responsibilities.

Disagreeing with the globally recongised adult age of 18-year old, the lawyer claimed that 21 should the precise age for adulthood because when an individual of 18-year old commits a crime, he or she is still viewed as a minor before the law.

Reacting to the controversial amendment of the 1999 constitution, Mr Lemiyu said few Nigerians “have actually made input into the amendment that is being passed presently. Most people are busy with their day to day activities.”

He also questioned the arrogation of the powers of the National Assembly to be the authority to formulate a new constitution for Nigeria.

The National Assembly perhaps is a representation of the sovereign will of the people but when you talk about the formulation of a new constitution, “I think the people themselves ought to be directly involved.”

“It should be something they are consciously doing.”

He also said that “political actors in the country today are arrogating to themselves powers that sometimes they do not possess.”

“They need to be reminded that ultimately sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria.”

Asked if what Nigeria needs is an amendment to a proper implementation of the laws, the lawyer said “the operation of the constitution can be better done than it is presently being done. I don’t think the present actors are particularly mindful of public interest.”

Their vision, about where they want to take the country, is not clear, he added.