Human Rights Watch raises alarm over child marriage in Nigeria
Human Rights Watch has warned the Nigerian government to immediately adopt the Child Rights Act to end the prevailing child marriage that is on the high side in the country.
The international organization in a statement on Monday said Nigeria now produces a large number of child marriages in Africa due to the lack of enforcement from both federal and state governments.
“Although the federal Child Rights Act (CRA, 2003) prohibits marriage below age 18, the Nigerian constitution contains provisions which appear to conflict with this position.
“States with Islamic legal systems have also failed to adopt both the federal law and 18 as the age of majority for marriage. Some southern states which have adopted this position have failed to take adequate steps to carry it out”, part of the statement read.
Meanwhile, data from the United Nations Children’s Fund, being the most populous country in Africa, had revealed that Nigeria has the highest number of child brides with an estimated 22 million children married before adulthood.
This portrayed that Nigeria accounts for 40 per cent of the total number of child brides in Africa with Niger having 76 per cent, the highest in the world, followed by the Central African Republic with 68 per cent and Chad at 67 per cent.
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In the statement, Human Rights Watch found that child marriage was prevalent in Imo and Kano states, despite the former adopting the CRA in 2004. In the latter, the Act is waiting for assent from the governor after being passed into law in February 2021.
Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, Mausi Segun, urged the government at all levels to urgently align the CRA with existing laws to protect girls’ rights.
He was quoted as saying, “It is disturbing that almost two decades after the Child Rights Act was passed, Nigerian girls are still being forced into child marriages.
“Nigerian states should urgently act to adopt, implement, and align existing laws with the provisions of the Child Rights Act, which criminalises marriage before the age of 18 and protects girls’ rights.”
The organisation also noted that the Nigerian constitution contravened the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which put that age of 18 as an age that guarantees a child’s freedom from violence and other issues.
“Child marriage contravenes the Nigerian constitution as well as the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which affirm 18 as the age of majority, and guarantee a child’s right to be free from coercion and violence and to get health care and education.
“There is an urgent need for Nigeria to harmonize its laws to conform to international legal standards to protect children from the marriage, Human Rights Watch found.
“The Child Rights Act should be adopted and put into practice by all states. The federal government and state authorities that have adopted the law should create a strong action plan to ensure the effective implementation of legislation and sanction non-compliance,” the statement added.