Enugu state outlaws gender-based harmful practices

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You would think that obnoxious practices like girl-child marriage would have been eradicated by now but that is not the case. Research shows that Nigeria still accounts for 30% of girl-child marriages in the whole world, and 22 million in West Africa.

Northern states account for about 59.4 % of girl-child marriages leaving the remaining 41.6% to southern and eastern states like Ibibio and Ijaw and Enugu.

Apart from the data, we have seen several notable Nigerian leaders show their support for girl-child marriage. One of such leaders is Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima, who ‘married’ an Egyptian 13-year-old girl a while back. The senator reportedly paid a dowry of $100,000 to the child’s parents. He was immediately condemned by Nigerian human rights groups, who called for his immediate arrest.

A petition was written by Roland Ewubare, the executive secretary of the National human rights commission, and presented by the protesting women activists asking the Senate to investigate Yerima for his ‘marriage’ to a minor in violation of the provisions of section 21 of the Child Rights Act and other international and human rights acts.

The Nigerian senator’s response was that he had done nothing wrong, noting that he had followed “standard rules for marriage in Islam”.

Speaking with BBC’s Hausa Service, the  49-year-old said, “I don’t care about the issue of age since I have not violated any rule as far as Islam is concerned. History tells us that Prophet Muhammad did marry a young girl as well. Therefore I have not contravened any law. As a Muslim, as I always say, I consider God’s law and that of his prophet above any other law. I will not respect any law that contradicts that and whoever wants to sanction me for that is free to do that.”

Years later, Premium Times reported that the same senator successfully fought against the Senate’s attempt to reverse a vote that appeared to outlaw underage marriage.

A Win For Nigerian Girls

Since then, not much has been done to abolish girl-child marriages in Nigeria until now. The Enugu State Traditional Rulers Council recently outlawed girl-child marriage and other forms of gender-based harmful practices.

Making the long-overdue announcement in a communique, the Chairman of the council, Igwe Lawrence Agubuzu, stated that the council was committed to ending all forms of violence against women and female children.

“We are committed to implementing the Supreme Court judgment that females have a right to inherit property from the family estate, whether married or not. We are also committed to actions to codify communal laws and regulations that will protect women and girls. Subsequently, we will have an Enugu State that is free from all forms of violence against women and girl child,” Agubuzu said.

The communique was issued at the end of a multi stakeholders’ strategic conference between the council and WomenAid Collective in Enugu, in partnership with the Ford Foundation and support from Enugu State Ministries of Gender Affairs, Chieftaincy Matters and Justice, and the 50/50 Action Women of the state.

We can only hope that leaders from other Ethnic groups take a cue from the Enugu state council and finally put an end to this agelong practice start that has been negatively affecting the lives of many underage girls.

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