Monday 19 April 2010

Nigeria: Senator's teenage marriage is lawful though reprehensible

{New information added 21/04/2010 18:00hrs} This conversation is ongoing on Facebook and I have received new information regarding the adoption of the Child's Rights Act of 2003 by more states in Nigeria - in this article Cross Rivers States was presumably the 23rd state to adopt the Act, other issues on Children's rights are discussed too Source Article.
What is legal can be immoral
I found myself engaged in a debate about morality and legality having seen a number of postings by friends regarding a Nigerian Senator who had married a 13-year old Egyptian girl. (Grandiose Parlor[1]) (AfricanLoft[2])
When I first read the topic, I was caught in great revulsion but I refused to allow my emotions becloud my judgment, despite the presumed research the news columnist appeared to have made regarding the marriage.
So easily, one can be taken by the sensational stuff and depart from objective scrutiny when one hears of what was paid as dowry that some have made appear as a wife purchase.
Between religion and homeliness
Indeed, because the man is Muslim, it is also easy to make Sharia the whipping boy, castigating religion whilst thinking the worst of the situation.
Categorically, it is morally reprehensible that a married man who already has three wives would take on a fourth that is only 13 – now, there is nothing wrong with a Muslim man marrying four wives – Islam allows for that “luxury”.
Having taken this 13 year old as a wife, I doubt she would be put to bed immediately, she would probably enter the family and adapt to the way of doing things within that polygamous family being groomed by the matriarch first wife – consummation may not take place for years - a need for cultural studies over preconceived personal prejudices would do us all a world of good.
That is not to put a gloss on the matter but to disabuse the tendency to think of every uncommon relationship through the myopic prism of sex – I find it amusing when the thought of homosexual relationships automatically creates revolting pictures in the minds of people who have no clue of what is going on between the persons involved.
The Age of Consent
Anyway, the first thing I did was to determine the age of consent [3] in Nigeria.
That being the age at which a person can be considered legally competent of consenting to sexual acts.
Apparently, Nigeria has one of the youngest ages of 13 [4], which means a 13 year old is considered legally able to engage in sexual activity [5] and adults need not suffer any legal consequence as a result of the sexual liaison.
In the Northern African countries the ages range from 16 to 18, whilst the Arabian Peninsula allows for sex with 9 year olds, Saudi Arabian sets no minimum age at all – the mind boggles with apoplectic moral rage – but the law in those lands allow for it.
The ambiguity of the Marriage Act
Now, there is the conflict of laws that allow for sloppy judgment to lead to the witch-hunting of the senator – the Marriage Act [6] of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria expects for marriages to be contracted between persons above 21 years old (Section 11), however, it also grants exceptions for marriages below that age if consent is granted by the father, the guardian or some legally constituted authority (Section 18 & 19).
In essence, the Senator most probably has broken no laws, whilst he might have excited our moral outrage, there is no reason to sanction him for marrying a girl – a lapse in judgment should not metamorphose into a criminal act just because we find that contract reprehensible.
There is definitely a case for changing the law to deal with the matter of making the “Age of consent” explicit and then merge that into the Marriage Act, if not, the loophole exists for children to be contracted into unhealthy relationships without the ability of self-determination or resistance. {Added 21/04/2010 - In addition the Child's Rights Act of 2003 needs to be adopted by more than the 4 to 6 states that have given it credence, because a child is defined as a person under 16 or 18 years of age, depending on the document reviewed.}
The law of in need of adjustment
The religious dimension to this matter however must not be left insignificant because a Nigerian mother lost the bid to annul the marriage [7] of her 18-year old son to a 55 year-old woman – whilst this interesting reversal of sexes might not excite passions – the matter of maturity and religious laws sided with the man against what would have been expected of a woman of a similar age.
In the end, the marriage of the Senator to the girl which would not have been allowed in Egypt is perfectly legal in Nigeria without resorting to the religious allowances of Sharia – however, if it gets reinforced by Sharia legal opinion, it is left to our legislature to argue to case for what should be legally acceptable and make the necessary changes to the law for that purpose.
Baying for the head of the senator is mob rule fuelled by mass hysteria – we should have avoid the inclination to formulate laws to accommodate our feeble sensibilities.

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