The Jigawa State House of Assembly, North-west Nigeria, on Tuesday passed a bill to protect children from abuse, but says the legislation will not regulate the age of marriage because “it’s controversial and alien to predominant religion and culture of the residents.”
This is coming a few weeks after stakeholders across Africa gathered in Niamey, Republic of Niger, to adopt measures aimed at reinforcing the already adopted protocols to protect African girls from abuse such as female genital mutilation and early child marriage.
The bill was unanimously passed according to the lawmakers after deliberations on the report of the House Committee on Justice and Judiciary.
They said it now awaits the governor’s assent to become a law.
About the bill
The bill, which is titled; “Child Right Protection Bill,” is an executive bill forwarded to the lawamakers by Governor Muhammad Badaru of the state.
It defines a child as a person below the age of 18 and seeks to enhance the welfare of children in the state and maximise requisite care and protection for children.
The bill’s sponsors said it also seeks to offer higher protection to the vulnerable in the society and raise the status bar of cherished societal norms and values.
The chairperson, House Committee on Justice and Judiciary, Abubakar Muhammad, while presenting the recommendations of the committee before his colleagues on Tuesday, urged the immediate passage of the bill to end the decade long controversy surrounding it.
The lawmakers in Jigawa State said the law was repealed due to inadequate input from citizens and ambiguous sections that needed explanations.
Therefore, since 2012, there has been no law protecting children in the state with the provisions of Nigeria’ 1999 Constitution (as amended) concerning child rights being subjected to varying interpretations.
The new bill, therefore, covers key aspects of the lives of children and adolescents, and divided into survival rights, development rights, participation rights, and protection rights.
Why we expunged ‘marriage age’ – Lawmaker
Speaking with journalists after the plenary, Mr Muhammad told reporters that the technical committee on the bill expunged ”the matter of marriageable age” from the bill because “it’s very difficult to determine the age of a girl that is ripe for marriage.”
The lawmaker said it is a controversial matter and that to avoid further controversies on the matter, “we expunged it totally from the bill.”
He said the bill that was presented to the house is one that complies with Islamic jurisprudence especially in connection with the rights of a child.
He said the passage of the bill brought an end to years of misrepresentation, misinformation about it.
“Any provision that was in contrast to Islamic principles and law, the culture of the Hausa, Fulani people was erased,” Mr Muhammad said.
Setback for child rights advocates
Rising from the Niamey summit in November, the participants were hopeful of a change for the better in terms of child rights protection on the continent, urging African leaders to adopt existing protocols and conventions that protect children.
The decisions were based on the grim statistics about child rights on the continent, especially the estimated 10 million girl-children expected to be married off on the continent by 2030 before they are 18 years of age.
In Nigeria specifically, a United Nations survey says 43 per cent of Nigerian girls are married before they are 18.
The problem of early marriage is particularly endemic in the North-west and North-east regions of the country.
With more than 80 per cent of its girls married off before their 18th birthday, Jigawa State has one of the highest prevalence of child marriage and street children (Almajiri) in the country.
But with the passage of the bill, Jigawa has joined other states in the North-west region that had, at least, taken similar steps which are Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, and Sokoto.
However, Kano and Zamfara States are yet to do so.
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