“We are saying the age of maturity should be 18 years, when she’s mentally and physically responsible,” she added.The Nigerian Constitution’s recognition of Islamic laws in force in parts of the country makes it difficult to prosecute or convict people supporting or practising forced, under age or child marriage across the country, minister for women affairs and social development Aisha Alhassan said Monday.
The minister was fielding questions at a press briefing a day before Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is to launch a national campaign to end child marriage.
Alhassan said the Constitution’s recognition of Islam-based local laws which define a woman’s marriageable age of maturity as the start of puberty was one reason “why you can’t convict anybody or challenge anybody marrying off their child.”
She said the campaign is not a legal confrontation but a movement “to show people the ills of child marriage” and its negative effect on the health of girls, premature pregnancy, fistula, loss of opportunity to be educated.
Dr Habib Sadauki, country manager for Engender Health, which deals in fistula repair and rehabilitation, said up to 200,000 women live with the condition, majority of them younger than 18, and abandoned by husbands and family after the onset of fistula.
UNICEF child protection officer Rocio Aznar spoke of concern about vulnerable girls in the lowest wealth quintile.
Uneducated and poor girls in Nigeria were married off eight years younger than the average, while girls with some education got married at an average age of 21, compared with 15 on average.
Up to 15 million under-age children are married off every globally, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
And 15 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in Africa. Only five Muslim countries have set limited marriage age to 15, others have none so far, experts said.
The campaign to end the practice started after an African Union meeting in 2014, with support from African first ladies declaring a two-year campaign to end child marriage in Africa, and globally by 2030.
Fifteen African countries have launched the campaign so far. Nigeria is the 16th, and will launch also its national four year strategy to end child marriages by 2020.