Still on the Child-Bride, By Dele Agekameh

agekameh 600The debate following the decision of the Nigerian Senate’s vote to keep the controversial clause in Section 29 of the 1999 Constitution has been rather interesting to follow. The thorny
Section 29 (4) (a)(b) of the Constitution stipulates (in paraphrase) that a married female of any age at all shall be considered to be “full of age,” meaning that it is valid to get married to a female-minor. This further presupposes that a girl-child automatically assumes the status of an adult irrespective of the age at which she becomes married.
Of course, the exercise started as an innocuous vote to determine the age at which a Nigerian
female could be regarded as being old enough to repudiate her citizenship if she wishes. It became such a prominent vexed issue mostly because of the histrionics of Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima, who began to act as though calling for any sort of debate on any subject remotely connected to religion is equivalent to cutting off his oxygen supply. With or without Yerima’s antics, the opprobrium that has trailed the decision of the Senate not to yank off that
clause has been right all the same. This is because, somehow, the vote ended up strengthening the position of the likes of Yerima, who has unsurprisingly been at the head of the vanguard for the retention of the vexing Section 29. It has simply given them a good platform to continue to exploit minors under the guise of marriage.
Having abstained from writing about this issue all along, what really got me ticking this time around were the comments recently credited to a respected Islamic scholar, Professor
Ishaq Akintola. Akintola, the Director of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC). In his contribution to the raging debate, Akintola said: “The conditions of marriage in Islam are four, namely: proposal and acceptance, approval by both parents, payment of dowry by the groom and the presence of at least two male witnesses at the ceremony. Age is, therefore, not part of the conditions which must be met before marriage can be solemnised in Islam. He added: “Where the bride is a minor, Islam prescribes protective solemnisation of marriage without consummation.
This means that the girl, who is deemed to be of tender age, is left untouched by the man until she attains puberty. Another condition for child marriage is that the girl herself has the right to repudiate the marriage, when she attains maturity if she does not like her spouse.”
Now, one needs to ask: Why would a religion in which Allah Himself is said to detest divorce more than anything else in a marriage, a religion in which the Holy Prophet Muhammad
(SAW) is said to have admonished couples to strive with every ability within their means to keep a marriage together, turn around and encourage such a flimsy marital environment, knowing that there is a high risk of the ‘bride’ deciding to exercise her “right (to) repudiate the marriage when she attains maturity?” If truly, even by Akintola’s own admission, it is stated in Islam that a minor, upon coming of age, can opt out of an arranged marriage, then,
surely, we can agree that this means that either these proponents of child marriage are reading from a different scripture or, as it is now more apparent, are merely twisting the tenets of Islam to suit their personal cravings and those of their co-conspirators.
‘A grave error it will be indeed if we have to continue to keep northern Nigeria as the home of the highest cases of Vesico-Vagina Fistula in the world’
From what I know about this issue from across the globe, more than 80 per cent of Muslim
countries are firmly opposed to child marriage. Even in Saudi Arabia, the guardian home of the Islamic faith, child-marriage is not a state-sanctioned practice. Hence, there have been heated debates on the subject for decades now.
One of the more prominent ongoing critics on the issue in Saudi Arabia is Sheik Abdullah al-Manie, a member of the Council of Senior Ulamma. In a widely circulated criticism of the practice as published in the Saudi Gazzette as well as the Okaz newspaper in Saudi Arabia, Sheik al-Manie argues that even though child marriage was condoned in the time of Prophet Muhammad, the circumstances today are grossly different from what obtained then. The Sheik said further: “It is a grave error to burden a child with responsibilities beyond her years. Marriage should be put off until the wife is of mentally and physically mature age and can care for both herself and her family.”
I happen to also understand from some of my friends who are Muslims that, in the Sunnah (sayings and practices of Prophet Muhammad, SAW), it was reported that a young girl once ran to the prophet complaining that her parents were on the verge of forcing her to marry a man she did not want to marry. The prophet was said to have admonished the parents not to force any marriage on her. This evidently further puts a lie to the claims by the likes of Yerima and Akintola, who have drummed the religious beat all along.
But aside from being made to come across as a touchy Islam versus Western civilization subject (which it is not), the issue at hand is one that poses all-too-real socio-economic
challenges to the society today and into the long-term future. The truth here is that by bending for this sort of practice, we plant poverty and diseases even more firmly in our society. And heaven knows that the North especially already suffers too much poverty and disease without having to face even grimmer prospects by legitimizing the child-marriage. So, to borrow words from Sheik al-Manie, it would be “a grave error” if the Senate does not retrace its steps and do the right thing as far as this issue is concerned. A grave error
it will be indeed if we have to continue to keep northern Nigeria as the home of the highest cases of Vesico-Vagina Fistula in the world. This is a health condition that directly results from under-age sex (or pregnancy), which is, in turn, almost always a direct result of under-age marriage. Are we really supposed to continue to close our eyes and watch more and more girls, mainly from the North, lose their right to education whilst we continue to spread poverty by so doing? The truth is that a girl who gets married off at a tender age does not
have a chance to compete mentally and intellectually with her peers.
I shiver to imagine what sort of wife material my under-13-year-old daughter could really make to anyone at her age. Imagine how grievously her mother and I would have injured her
dreams if we suddenly decide to hand her over in marriage at this age. Here is a girl who is constantly reminding everyone who cares to listen of her dream to become a doctor or an engineer in the future. How barbaric it would be for me to be party to taking that future away from her!
Amidst all of the debate, we are also inadvertently making even more apparent a point that we all know already about our political reality in this country, namely: that the Nigerian
politician, nay parliamentarian, does not actually represent the interest of the general populace. Rather, the Nigerian parliamentarian is merely self-serving. How else do you explain the disdain with which the likes of Yerima have continued to treat the millions of voices that have been rising against their decision? As so-called representatives of the people, one would have expected them to begin to come around given the sheer din of voices against their action, especially voices from Yerima’s own North and even the Islamic community. But no, they can’t be bothered at all because democratic representation, as far as
the Nigerian politician is concerned, places the representative as an all-wise master over the people. To these senators, therefore, even this most salient of touchy issues of broad social, economic, political and moral ramification for the wider population and generations to come must suitably cater to the perks of the lawmakers first and above all else, even to the mortal detriment of everyone else.

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