Balarabe Musa (A former Governor of the old Kaduna State)
The government should treat them as criminals. All perpetrators of forced marriages should be treated as criminals. But we have to determine what a forced marriage is according to the Nigerian constitution and under Nigerian conditions.
There are laws and traditions that may allow them and in that case, what should be done is that those traditions should be outlawed and the laws should be changed.
We see now that the system is dealing with judges who looked like untouchables. If judges could be dealt with like this for good reason, why not traditional or religious leaders who have erred?
Yerima Shettima (National President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum)
Forced marriage is not good. It is something that was widely practised by our forebears. But Nigeria has come of age; the entire world has come of age and we must not be seen to be promoting forced marriage.
I think we consciously have to address this. In Nigeria, which is a secular state, religion or ethnicity should not be used as a yardstick in our national life. I think the government has to look at it from that perspective.
The government should pass a law that stops people from practising forced marriage. The age of 18 should be the minimum age for any girl to get married, just as it is done anywhere in the world. At that age, she would have the wisdom and freewill to choose the kind of man she wants to be with.
Attempts to force underage girls into marriages could encourage prostitution and I don’t even think prostitution is in line with my religion, Islam.
These people violate the rights of these children by forcing them into marriages and they still go back to religion to buttress their action with one chapter of the Koran or the other. But morally, I think it is not right.
Okechukwu Isiguzoro (President, Ohanaeze Youth Council)
Traditional rulers should partner the government to reduce the incidence of forced marriage. This is the only way the perpetrators could be identified and fished out. There is also the need to pass a law that expressly criminalises early/forced marriage. Federal and state lawmakers need to work on such a bill.
There is a relationship between forced marriage and commercialisation of marriage rites. Parents and other stakeholders should be discouraged from turning marriages into money-making ventures. Many parents who give out their teenage girls in marriage do so for pecuniary gains. That must be stopped.
Perpetrators and economic beneficiaries of forced marriage should be treated as criminals. The punishment should be life imprisonment. This would go a long in discouraging those who indulge in it.
Also, there should be public awareness on the implications of forced marriage. When there is a sufficient campaign against it, victims would be encouraged to speak out.
Dr. Princess Olufemi-Kayode (Executive Director, Media Concern Initiative)
The steps (to take against the perpetrators of child marriage) are already spelt out in our laws and the government knows what to do. We are in a country that is lawless; after all, a former governor of a northern state married a 13-year-old girl and nothing happened. He wasn’t even ashamed of the act.
In law, there are no sacred cows but some people have been able to add religious coloration to the child marriage issue in order to sustain it.
This is annoying. There are many girls, who are in bondage because they were married like this. We are in a country of values and customs; there is no religion that allows you to marry anybody without parental consent.
Liborous Oshoma (Human rights lawyer)
There should be adequate laws to protect people against sexual harassment. Such laws must be implemented. We also urgently need to review the existing relevant laws. We need to look at the section of our marital laws which says that parents can give consent on behalf of their daughters. The spirit of that law is not to give out an under-age persons in marriage. It has to do with girls who are betrothed but not permitted to stay with their so-called men because their ages. This aspect of the law has been very controversial and it needs amendment.
There is also another section of the law on renunciation of citizenship. A clause says you must be 21 and above to renounce citizenship but that when you are married, you are presumed to be of age. This creates confusion especially as there is no clearly defined age for marriage.
For instance, if you marry a 13-year-old girl, she is presumed to be of age. This aspect needs to be amended.
Betty Abah, Executive Director, CEE-HOPE
Child marriage is modern-day evil and it is a scandal no serious country should tolerate. Girl child marriage stunts the destiny of the victim held captive in the name of culture. Girl child marriage kills dreams; girl child marriage stifles potential and robs the victims, their families, communities and, indeed, the world of the opportunity to be relevant and contribute positively to societal progress.
Incidents of child marriage continue to resurface and throw our country into international embarrassment simply because our government considers the perpetuators, who are most times big men, as untouchables.
At a time when countries like Tanzania and Zambia are outlawing child marriage, our president is still limiting his wife to the ‘other room’. We have not allowed ourselves to be freed from the fetters of retrogressive traditions with all the glaring negative indices and implications. It all rises and falls with leadership. Government must punish offenders as stipulated by the law and not merely give five gentle slaps on the wrist, or a seeming nod of approval or a conspiratorial silence as we see from time to time. This is the 21st Century; Nigerians, let’s wake up and allow girls to be girls, please.
Olufemi Aduwo (President Rights Monitoring Group)
Child marriage is even a sin against humanity. The government should be serious about it and come up with an effective check. Some people in the North hide under religion whereas their counterparts in Arab countries do not involve in this type of a thing. Child marriage is an issue that we should tackle and the United Nations should be involved in this matter. Unfortunately, our lawmakers from the North are not helping matters. We should have more enlightenment programmes.
Child marriage is an advanced level of child abuse. We should have a law that makes it compulsory for child rights to be guaranteed up to the age of 17. One way of doing this is to make child education free across the federation in order to reduce this abuse. When you educate a girl child, you educate a mother; and you educate a nation. Most of the child marriages have led to high mortality rate. Imagine a girl of 13 being turned into a mother overnight. In the South-West, it is reduced, but in the North, it is rampant. Forceful marriages need to be discouraged.
Innih Archibong (Executive Director, Liberty Now)
Forced marriage is a product of culture. But so is law. The sociological school of legal thought, for example, teaches that law is a function of the society. The historical school posits that law grows with the people and dies with the people.
If we are going to do something about forced marriages, the law is a ready tool. But to what extent does the law regulate culture? This is because it is the extent to which it can regulate forced marriages. My answer is: the law does not regulate culture much. Any move to change the culture of a specific people must be cultural and incremental.
What gives rise to this culture? Is it the poverty of parents? If yes, improve the economy in ways that could improve livelihoods and increase the income of families. Is it illiteracy? Then, we should show religious teachers and leaders that there are other truths outside their religions.
If the main factor is religious, the battle could be a tough one. Yet, we can start with a campaign on age of marriage and importance of consent.
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