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Featured Comment: Section 29 (4) (b) of the Nigerian Constitution and its Implications for Child Marriage

Guest Comment by Tinenenji Banda, Research Associate, Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School*

On July 16, 2013, the Nigerian Senate rejected a proposed amendment to Section 29 (4) (b) of the Nigerian Constitution, a clause that regards married girls as adults in the eyes of the law. [1] The section in question deals with the renunciation of citizenship and states that for the purposes of that section, “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age”. [2]

While an amendment to eliminate this language was initially passed by the senate, a revote which blocked the amendment was taken amid protests by Senator Amhed Sani Yerima, who argued that the amendment was in conflict with Islamic law which regards a married girl as an adult. [2]

While the clause in question deals with the renunciation of citizenship and not the question of child marriage, the clause is an implicit endorsement of child marriage and undermines the legal protection accorded to children under the Child Rights Act of Nigeria which prohibits child marriages and provides that any marriage involving an individual under the age of 18 is null and void. [3]

Regarding a young girl as an adult has far reaching ramifications and could possibly deny her the range of protections under the Child Rights Act of Nigeria and other laws designed to protect children. The dangers of child marriage are well documented and the implications of Section 29 (4)(b) in a country where 39% of girls are married off before the age of 18 are serious. [4] The Nigerian government should heed the widespread protests in Nigeria over this development and take seriously the calls for the amendment of section 29 (4) (b).

 
* Tinenenji Banda is a Zambian lawyer and a JSD student at Cornell Law School.
 
[1] Dapo Falade – Abuja, “Constitution Amendment:  How the Senate Voted” Nigerian Tribune (23 July 2013) available at http://www.tribune.com.ng/news2013/index.php/en/component/k2/item/17307-constitution-amendment-how-the-senate-voted.
[2] The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Section 29 (4) (b).
[3] Dapo Falade – Abuja, “Constitution Amendment:  How the Senate Voted” Nigerian Tribune (23 July 2013) available at http://www.tribune.com.ng/news2013/index.php/en/component/k2/item/17307-constitution-amendment-how-the-senate-voted.
[4] Afua Hirsch, “Nigerian senator who 'married girl of 13' accused of breaking Child Rights Act” The Guardian (25 July 2013) available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/25/nigeria-senator-accused-child-bride.
[5] UNICEF, “Progress for Children: Achieving the MDGs with Equity”, No. 9 (September 2010) available at http://www.unicef.org/protection/Progress_for_Children-No.9_EN_081710.pdf.