On April 14, 2016, Nigeria witnessed a number of activities ranging from street marches, public discussions, seminars, conferences, book launches and media events, specifically dedicated to the commemoration of the two years anniversary of the abduction of Chibok girls. Abducted by suspected Boko Haram insurgent fighters since April 14, 2014, the whereabouts of these young girls remain unknown. The disappearance of the school girls provoked national and international outrage, triggering protests across the country; fiery campaigns and powerful conversations across diverse social media platforms.
Speaking to Nkoli Omhoudu of Africa Independent Television (AIT), the executive director of Spaces for Change, Ms. Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, stated that the Nigerian government’s failure to secure the release of the young girls represents a betrayal of the constitutionally-entrenched promise to protect lives and property, and guarantee the welfare and security of citizens. Beyond finding these girls, the government needs to tell us what it is doing to ensure the abduction of young school girls do not reoccur in the future. Finding these girls is not meaningful if they would be merely taken back to Chibok, where they are vulnerable to further attacks and re-abductions. The federal government must guarantee human security in Borno communities. In the meantime, the Nigerian government must take immediate steps to provide alternative education hubs in less volatile locations where young girls can safely go to school and fully realize their potentials. Ms. Ohaeri’s commentary featured on the 12 noon news segment on AIT, aired live to millions of viewers on April 15, 2016.
Perception is growing that the Chibok Girls may have been married off to the insurgents, or ferried across the border as child brides. This widely-held perception is fueling concern about the practice of child marriages in Nigeria, and the need to nip it in the bud. Along these lines, Spaces for Change contributed to an investigative report on child marriage practices in Lagos State, carried out with the support of Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting. The report, written by Betty Abah, and published in the Nation Newspaper, reveals that in spite of the existence of the Child’s Rights Law and the status of Lagos State as Nigeria’s most cosmopolitan and most enlightened state, child and forced marriages still go on in several communities in Lagos, unabated.
In her contribution, Ms. Ohaeri of Spaces for Change observed that ‘although Lagos is a rapidly urbanising and metropolitan society, we must know that Nigeria is basically a cultural society. The traditions, religious practices and dispositions have great influences over people and so even when they come to Lagos or other big cities, those cultures still guide and inform their private lives.”
The Nigerian Constitution puts the statutory age of adults at 18. Anyone lower than that is a minor and cannot give consent. Marriage is a decision that requires consent and consent cannot be given by a minor,’ she said. For citizens below the age of 18, the Constitution imposes certain obligations on states to protect their interests and welfare. Section 17 (3)(f) of the 1999 Constitution requires states of the federation to direct their policies towards ensuring that children, young persons and the aged are protected against any exploitation whatsoever, and against moral and material neglect.
Keep in mind that the child rights legislation follows the tenor of the Constitution. Child Rights Act criminalizes having carnal knowledge of a child below the age of 18. This has been interpreted to mean that 18 years is the legal age of consensual sex in Nigeria. Child Rights Act applies in twenty-four (24) states of the federation (including Lagos) and the Federal Capital Territory.
For the full text of the report, please click here.