The power of the social media – as a mobilizing platform – came to fore yet again in Nigeria after the penultimate Tuesday’s plenary session of the Senate. Much like it was used around the Middle East during the Arab spring protests and in Nigeria during the fuel subsidy removal protests of January 2012; sentiments were raised, names were called, petition signing was requested, and I even thought there would be a call to march unto the National Assembly, though there wasn’t any. But really, Nigerians, especially the youth, have the right and are supposed to be alarmed as to the import of an item raised on the floor of the senate – essentially on Citizenship Renunciation as described under Section 29 of the constitution – where a married woman is deemed of full age.
The brouhaha got louder particularly because it was the lone voice of Sani Yerima invoking a point of order to force a new vote on the restoration of the said sub-section into the constitution. Yerima, the erstwhile Sharia champion and governor of Zamfara State, had taken a 13 year old Egyptian girl into matrimony a couple of years back to the bewilderment of most Nigerians. A 13 year old? Has she really been weaned? It was for that spirit few people was willing to really review the issue at stake but, rightly so, the import…..a child bride is legally seen to be of full age.
However, of some interest was the religious backing the Yerima group were latching on, and the derisive review of the faith by the other camp….How on earth will a “revealed” religion allow pedophilia? It’s rather a cult of perverts……and bombers! Yerima & Co are actually lining up behind the fact that Muhammad (the Prophet of Islam) got married to Aisha at the age of nine……..and as such, it becomes permissible and possibly desired.
The issue really swung some apologetics and revisionists into action. Many came up with revised ages for Aisha claiming she was actually older than was reported at the time – 17, 18 or 21 were touted – while some even labeled her an outright liar for misrepresenting herself as noted in various books of Hadiths. To these people, we would say “Relax guys! You don’t need to get unduly agitated. We know you love the Prophet; but don’t attempt to rewrite the history lest even the Revelation becomes doubtful.”
In reality, the Prophet lived in an era (1,400+ years ago) where marrying a pubescent girl was normal and part of the lifestyles of the people. In fact, being within and around heathens, Jews and Christians; he was never rebuked or ridiculed on the basis of his marriage to Aisha, and that’s because it was not an alien nor an abhorrent norm to them. Betrothals and marriages of children and pubescent was widely common throughout the world in the middle ages, and the concept of “child marriage” actually lingered through centuries and civilizations – Europe, Africa and Americas – till recently when its abhorrence can not be ignored due to the attendant negative effects.
And it’s on the bases of these negative effects that all well meaning humans, irrespective of creed, ought to converge and struggle to disallow the ChildBride notion and practice. The world is not making up the issue of prevalent obstetric fistula (a.k.a VVF) ravaging the northern part of the country and many parts of the middle east – or how else discomforting for the girl and the family will the issue of incontinence be? -, nor is it making up the mental disorientation, low self esteem and livid anger in the girls having fallen victim to some men who prefer ejaculations to education. The world is not making up the fact that such girls get no education in this age and time thus becoming hopeless dependents, nor is it making up the fact that there is increased poverty and diseases within the ranks of such girls who are often abandoned by the “husband” who has already ported to another girl or woman. (Check Effects of Child Marriage here)
It becomes more disconcerting however, when you hear or read some hard nuts arguing that in conformity with the tenets of Islam, age was not part of the conditions which must be met before marriage can be solemnised. Well, there may not be a pronouncement of an exact figure, but there is a mention of a period which is definitely not infancy! In the verses revealed to exhort guardians in the treatment of orphans and their (orphans’) properties, this verse stood out:
“And test the orphans [in their abilities] until they reach marriageable age. Then if you perceive in them sound judgement, release their property to them. And do not consume it excessively and quickly, [anticipating] that they will grow up. And whoever, [when acting as guardian], is self-sufficient should refrain [from taking a fee]; and whoever is poor – let him take according to what is acceptable. Then when you release their property to them, bring witnesses upon them. And sufficient is Allah as Accountant.” Quran 4: 6
If one is exhorted to test the intelligence of the orphan in one’s care till s/he reaches marriageable age – an age or period widely acknowledged by the community – and confirm her/his supposed ability in dealing with emotional and economic issues, how much more one’s biological child. You would ask: “Why then should one seek or offer in marriage a girl still in her diapers?”
More comforting however is that we have seen the age of consent for sexual activities (and by extension marriage) being set in different countries of the world and even reviewed by many perhaps due to socio-economic and health reasons. We have seen age of consent in Spain as 13, Portugal as 14, Japan as 13, England as 16 (12 as at 1275 AD), Canada as 16 (14 prior to 2008, and 12 prior to 1890), Turkey as 18, Vatican State as 12, Malaysia as 15, Kuwait as 15, Norway as 16 (onset of first menstruation in the Viking age, 20 during the Reformation, 16 during the ’60s). The age setting and the possible reviews suggest responsible governments’ readiness to face head long the ills of child marriage regardless of customs or traditions.
There is therefore no need to engage in any debate as to the allowance or perpetuating the ChildBride concept in a region like ours which is ravaged with poverty (of the pocket and the mind) and diseases. It is abhorrent, and against the spirit of personal and community development. Nigerians, and the Nigerian government, should hence not be cowed by self-serving voices in demanding and promulgating what is right for the Nigerian child, particularly the girl.