Nigeria: Forced marriages and the age of consent.
Update : Petition to remove Yerima to be delivered today at the National Assembly – Will Yerima end up in jail?
The former Governor of Zamfara State, Senator Sani Yerima has married a 13 year old Egyptian girl for whom he paid her family $100,000. The “marriage” is being discussed in the news but no charges of rape and forced marriage are being pursued. Two other men, Harrison Eze and Ademola Arogboto have both been charged with rape though for some reasons the papers seem shy of using this word. Instead they use the phrase “alleged forceful carnal knowledge of a minor” and “abuse of underage girls”. It is clearly evident that the law is being applied on the basis of class/status and religion. Child marriage takes place in countries across the world from South America, Africa and Asia. It also tends to take place in rural areas and amongst the poor. In Nigeria 20-40% of young girls are forced into marriage and the majority of those take place amongst Northern Muslims under Sharia Law and case of vesicovaginal fistula (VVF) are very high amongst young girls. Though there are some organisations providing surgical repair and rehabilitation together with education on reproductive rights, economic empowerment – the majority of those living with VVF have very little medical help.
It’s no coincidence that during his Governorship of Zamfara, Sani Yerima who has a habit of marrying underage girls, instigated and championed the implementation of Sharia law in his state where marrying girls as young as 11 is common place. Why is a Senator who is a serial rapist and child trafficker, walking around as if nothing has happened? Why is he not being called to account in the Senate as well as being charged with rape? Because like elsewhere in the word but more so in Nigeria, the rich are above the law particularly if they are also politicians and because there is still a culture of protecting pedophiles and blaming the children.
Women Empowerment and Legal Aid [WELA] is demanding that the Federal Government arrest and prosecute Yerima for trafficking but not for forced marriage and rape. Why – because Yerima married the young girl under Sharia law and the age of consent in Northern Nigeria remains 13. This is so typical on all levels. No one has the guts to come out name the man and his crimes and challenge a law, religious or otherwise, which violates the rights of children as agreed by all international and African human rights legislation including Nigeria’s Child Rights Act 2003. However although the Act is enforceable at Federal level only 16 of the 36 states have passed the Act leaving millions of Nigerian children without any protection.
Nigeria has been unable to deal with several issues hindering the protection rights of children such as children living on the streets, children affected by communal conflict, drug abuse, human trafficking and the weaknesses of the juvenile justice system amongst others.
In 2005, The Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria (SCSN) made an official protest against adopting the Child Rights Act and again in 2008 the Kano House of Assembly said the Act was against the religion and culture [of the north].
Gafasa, in an interview with THISDAY, also said that the Act is ” Against the wishes of Kano and entire Northern part of the country as its against our religion and culture”
Whilst I have no time for Gadaffi and believe he should shut up and stop interfering in Nigeria’s internal politics, maybe he did have a point after all in calling for a Nigeria to be split in two since the Sharia states have a law onto their own and refuse to accept international, African and Nigeria human rights laws or acknowledge the Federal penal code.
The WELA and other rights organisations should be campaigning for an open discussion on the age of consent which should be raised to 16 and forced marriages to be made a criminal offense. Civil Society and Pro-Democracy groups are so focused on party politics and corruption whilst religious groups are busy moralising and ranting against homosexuality. The two issues are the rights of children and secondly the fact that at this moment there are two Nigeria’s – the northern Sharia states and the rest of the country and the former is increasingly removing itself from the Federal structure and picking and choosing which Federal and international laws it will uphold and those it will ignore.