Wednesday 24 July 2013

Senate denies endorsing early marriage law

Contrary to what is believed by some people, the Senate has not amended the constitution to encourage early marriage.

This was the position of the Senate while describing the controversy trailing its voting on the issue of the age for denouncing citizenship as a product of ignorance and mischief.

The Senate's Deputy President and Chairman of its Committee on Constitution Amendment, Ike Ekweremadu, declared at a press briefing in Abuja that it only tried to delete an existing clause in the constitution which it considered discriminatory against women.

According to him, "the decision of the Senate on this part has been wildly misinterpreted, misreported, and totally taken out of context."

Ekweremadu said: "Section 29(4) (b) was recommended for deletion because the committee considered it discriminatory. Section 29(4) (a) has already defined 'full age' as age 18 and above. We considered it gender discriminatory and imbalance to place the man and woman on different scales in matters of citizenship renunciation.

"If there is no gender discrimination in matters relating to voting rights, education age, driving age, and so on, we felt this discrimination was abnormal and, in fact, an inelegant drafting. As such, it was recommended for deletion, but could not pass eventually. In essence, the Senate has not done anything new to that part of the constitution."

Ekweremadu stated that the issue voted upon had nothing to do with Islam or marriage.

He added: "On the issue of Section 29, I want to appeal to Nigerians to please show understanding, to possibly read this section and understand that the issue has nothing to do with early marriage.

"It has nothing to do with Islam. Essentially, it has to do with the renunciation of citizenship.

"So, you have to give it a proper perspective. I want to assure Nigerians that in the future, we are ready to revisit it if Nigerians feel strongly about it.

"We have no bill to approve early marriage. We are not sponsoring any bill against Islam. This particular provision has been in our Constitution since 1979. Ours was an attempt to remove that aspect so that men and women would have equal footing regarding the issue of renunciation of citizenship. And we will never support early marriage."

Meanwhile, there are indications that the controversial 2013 amendment bill would be passed into law today. The bill scaled second reading on the floor of the upper legislative chamber yesterday.

According to Senate President David Mark, senators would be taking the clause by clause considerations of the bill today after which it might be passed into law.

Following the second reading of the bill, it has been traditionally referred to the Committee on Appropriation, which is expected to make legislative input and return it to the floor within 24 hours.

But reacting to the alleged Senate approval of early marriage, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) threatened to embark on a street protest.

Describing the move as a legalisation of sexual abuse of underage girls, the President of CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, threatened that he would personally mobilise Nigerians and lead the street protest.

Other Nigerians also condemned the resolution yesterday.

In a statement in Abuja, Oritsejafor stated that CAN vehemently rejected the Senate's position and called on the upper chamber to be more reasonable by revisiting the issue. He called on all Nigerians of good conscience to resist the resolution.

He said: "The section if amended would imply that a girl of any age can be constitutionally allowed to marry. Why would the Senate after voting recoil simply because a point of order premised on religious basis was raised? We Christians also have canon law which frowns on marriage of girls who are not of age. Christianity abhors such marriages. The protest will be soon.

"As the leader of Christians in Nigeria, I am particularly irked by the statement credited to Senator Ahmed Yerima, a former governor of Zamfara State, to the effect that the proposal for the deletion of section 29 (4) (b) is at variance with Islamic law. This argument is offensive because it presupposes that Nigeria, a secular state, is populated only by Muslims.

"Yerima is again, advertently stirring up another controversy about the supremacy of Islamic law … after the one he raised when he introduced Sharia, the Islamic legal code, in Zamfara State. I think the problem is that people like Senator Yerima are approaching Qur'anic teachings from extremes and disturbing the balance. It makes me wonder the source of their emotions and thoughts that nurture them. I urge the Yerimas in the Senate to toe the path of the Holy Qur'an in (5:32) which states that one who kills a person unjustly in effect has killed everyone and one who saves another has saved everyone. They should save these girls and Nigerians the agony of having their children married off at ages below 18 by unfavourable legislation."
Oritsejafor stressed that the resolution of the Senate to amend Section 29 (4) (b) was selfish, delusive and a contravention of all known international conventions, protocols and ethics on the rights of the child to which Nigeria is a signatory.

"Child bride should not be encouraged or allowed in Nigeria. With over 12,000 women quoted by the National Demographic Health Survey as living with the Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) every year in Nigeria, fine-tuning laws that would enable desiring Nigerians to marry primary school pupils is not what our legislators should be involved in. Rather, the Senate should strengthen the nation's constitution by protecting all citizens' rights, especially those of children from abuse.

"As a senator whose case of marrying a 13-year-old Egyptian girl is still fresh in the memory of Nigerians, Yerima should only be seen and not heard in matters of this nature. If now he is commenting on a case in which he has interest, it can only mean the action of a man frenziedly trying to get himself out of the hook through some undeserved legislation.

"I appeal to those individuals who have been educated along this line in the Senate not to use their rights as lawmakers to harm children below the age of 18, but to choose the interest of these children above their own. These girls should be allowed to develop, individually because this resolution, if implemented, would hound girls below 18 years into marriages they know nothing about. This is only one dimension of this tragic resolution.

"I feel that when individuals attain a certain way of thinking and understanding and reach certain status in life, they should be able to comprehend that it is necessary to adhere to conventions in line with best practices the world over and not harm other members of society, no matter their ages within the same society."

On her part, the founder of the Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA), Mrs. Funmi Falana, urged the Senate to review its decision by deleting the controversial section 29 (4) (b) of the constitution which states that married woman shall be deemed to be of full age.

She gave the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN), one month within which to prosecute Yerima for marrying a 13-year-old girl.

Addressing the media yesterday on "Child Marriage and the Constitution" in Lagos, the rights advocate threatened to initiate criminal proceedings against Yerima, should the AGF fail to do so within one month.
Also, women rights agitators yesterday in Benin City, the Edo State capital, continued their agitation for respect for the rights of women and the girl-child in the review of the constitution.

They expressed deep concern over the silence by the National Assembly on the issue of affirmative action. They urged the Senate to review the issue of child marriage, describing it as "a national disgrace that portrays Nigeria as a primitive society."

A statement by the President and Director of Publicity of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organisations (CONGOs), Jude Obasanmi and Destiny Enabulele, said they were frustrated "with the declaration conceded by the Senate to preserve the provision of Section 29 (4) (b) of the 1999 constitution."
They said that the majority of Nigerians had expressed their position that Section 29 (4) (b) did not deserve to be in the constitution expected to people-oriented.

At a stakeholders meeting including members of the House of Assembly in Benin City and civil society organisations in Edo State, Executive Director, Gender and Development Action (GADA), Mrs. Ada Agina-Udeat, said the retention of the extant provision that any woman that is married is deemed to be an adult only confirmed the futility of the talk about women development.
Culled from nigerianeye

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