Malawi’s Ban on Child Marriage and Thoughts on Child Marriage in Nigeria
Malawi recently passed a law to ban child marriage. News reports on this pointed out that Malawi has a high rate of child marriage, up to fifty per cent in some areas. Child Marriage is another form of gender-based violence and human rights violation that limits girls opportunities to live healthy fulfilling lives. The health consequences of child marriage include: death at childbirth, complications at child birth including obstetric fistula, increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, increased health risks for children born to child brides.
Nigerian children are also victims of this kind of violence and these unfortunate and completely avoidable health consequences. Not long ago, the Nigerian Senate’s proposed amendment of the section relating to renunciation of citizenship in Section 21 of the Constitution which appeared to equate every married female to an adult regardless of her true age for the purposes of renouncing citizenship. (See my commentary at the time).
The Child Rights Act 2003 prohibits marriage of a child, effectively banning child marriage in Nigeria. It defines a child as a person under 18. Unfortunately, several States are yet to adopt to adopt the Act. This is important because child matters are on the residual list, over which the States have authority to legislate. The Federal Government, having domesticated the Convention on the Rights of the Child, resulting in the passage of the Child Rights Act, states are required to adopt it to make it operational. At last count, 24 States have adopted it but 12 have not. Interestingly, most of these states are in the North where child marriage is rampant and often justified on religious and cultural grounds. Some states have also modified this provision, defining a child differently. For instance, Cross River’s Child Rights Law defines a child as a person under 16 years of age.
In essence, Nigeria has banned child marriage, like Malawi has recently done. Unfortunately, this ban is not effective for reasons that include our federal system of government, lack of enforcement, but most importantly, the perception that the rights of children, their health, safety, and well-being must be subsumed under and made subject to the dictates of outrageous displays of patriarchal power, egregious acceptance of the status quo reprehensible neglect of government authorities who push child health to the back burner and fail to attack the root causes including poverty and ignorance, unconscionable use of culture as excuse, and unacceptable interpretations of religion.
Given the health consequences of Child Marriage, it us clearly a health policy and human rights issue that health advocates should champion and continue to seek changes over. Keeping that matter on the front burner and in the news would be helpful. The Malawian ban presents just such an opportunity.
We at CHELD celebrate Malawi’s ban and hope that their and Nigeria story will not end in powerless words on paper but as effective tools to promote the rights and health of children in these countries.
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