Nigerian government has been requested to criminalise child marriage in the country.
This is coming as the Human Rights Watch asked the Federal Government to urgently adopt the Child Rights Act to prevent the prevalence of child marriages in the country.
The group also faulted the Nigerian Constitution, which it said contradicted the Child Right Act.
While speaking in statement on Monday, the international human rights organisation, lamented high rate of child marriage in Nigeria which it said was due to the lack of enforcement from both federal and state governments.
Part of the statement read “Although the federal Child Rights Act (CRA, 2003) prohibits marriage below age 18, the Nigerian constitution contains provisions which appear to conflict with this position.
“States with Islamic legal systems have also failed to adopt both the federal law and 18 as the age of majority for marriage. Some southern states which have adopted this position have failed to take adequate steps to carry it out.”
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, being the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria has the highest number of child brides with an estimated 22 million children married before adulthood.
With this number, Nigeria accounts for 40 per cent of the total number of child brides in Africa with Niger having 76 per cent, the highest in the world, followed by the Central African Republic with 68 per cent and Chad at 67 per cent.
In the statement, Human Rights Watch found that child marriages were prevalent in Imo and Kano states despite the former adopting the CRA in 2004. In the latter, the Act is waiting for assent from the governor after being passed into law in February 2021.
The Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, Mausi Segun, implored the Nigerian government to do more to ensure that Child Right Act is enforced in the country.
His words: “It is disturbing that almost two decades after the Child Rights Act was passed, Nigerian girls are still being forced into child marriages.
“Nigerian states should urgently act to adopt, implement, and align existing laws with the provisions of the Child Rights Act, which criminalises marriage before the age of 18 and protects girls’ rights.”
He also added that “child marriage contravenes the Nigerian constitution as well as the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which affirm 18 as the age of majority, and guarantee a child’s right to be free from coercion and violence, and to get health care and education.
“There is an urgent need for Nigeria to harmonize its laws to conform to international legal standards to protect children from marriage, Human Rights Watch found.
“The Child Rights Act should be adopted and put into practice by all states. The federal government and state authorities that have adopted the law should create a strong action plan to ensure the effective implementation of legislation and sanction non-compliance.”