Constitution Amendment, Child’s Rights, The Senate and the Rest of us- An UPDATE

BRIEF PREFACE TO UPDATE : Thank you for stopping by to read this piece. Thank you for retweeting, rebloging and sharing on Facebook and other social media platforms. Most importantly, I thank you for your comments: the kudos and the knocks. I do not take them for granted at all. I pray that God will continue to give us wisdom to tactically and strategically plead the noble cause of our future, our children.

I think it is the noblest cause on the earth to not only prepare the future for our children and also prepare our children for the future. In view of the responses so far I think, I should update my piece, which has been widely received yesterday.

Please note that I do not claim to have all the social, political and professional answers and the wisdom for same concerning this very important discussion, concerning our precious children. My goal is to supply some information that will give direction to our noble agitation for the present and the future of our children. With this in mind, I invite you to read my updated version of the piece I posted yesterday…Thank you as you read and I look forward to your comments:

Permit me to warn upfront that I do not seek to be popular with this piece as always. I am never a fan of popular opinion. I am always a fan of the truth of my conscience as instructed by God and sacredness of facts.

As a 16 year long-distance runner on the serious matter of child’s rights and protection, working with parents, leading private and public schools, agencies of government, local and international bodies and having been in the trenches with UNICEF in the last 8 years, I have come to accept that in any social intervention direction and clear-cut goals are more important than motion. And except, to our motion, we add direction and clear-cut goals, the best we will achieve is still motion or movement without advancement. I guess that is why early social scientists concluded and aptly so ‘a mob has no soul, no conscience; just paws and claws and teeth.’

I guess also that is why some people, though always few must stand out as the conscience of a struggle or a conscience of a people, who are gunning after social change in a particular area or geographical location. Please permit me to submit with all sincerity in me that ‘no conscience, no meaningful and attainable social struggle.’  I have also understood and accepted that getting emotional,   becoming abusive, throwing caution into the whirl wind and being vulgar does not have any significant value in the theater of matured and result-oriented social struggle.

Having established the foregoing, permit me declare my unalloyed support for any meaningful, tactical and well-articulated outcry against any form of abuse against the Nigerian child, including child marriage. Child Marriage is condemnable in its entirety.  The destructive impact of child marriage is already in public domain and I do not think I should dwell too much on that here. Since the Senator Yerima saga in 2009, I have kept as the background of my twitter(@taiwoakinlami) page the picture of Yerima and his 13 year-old Egyptian bride, with this inscription, ‘It shouldn’t hurt to be a child.’  As far as I am concerned, justice has not been served in the matter. Keeping the picture on my twitter page is my little way of keeping the issue alive in my mind and others, who are still interested in seeing that justice is done in the matter.

Now, permit me to comment on the present onslaught on the Nigerian Senate about legalizing child marriage. Let me begin by stating the facts as it was reported, since every meaningful public discourse must begin with the facts of the issues. Scott Prestwich Charles, a renowned journalist submitted many years ago that ‘comment is free but facts are sacred.’ It means that before one exercises his freedom of expression, he or she must get his or facts right or straight.

We are all aware the senate has embarked the amendment of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for a while now. The senate had considered various parts of the constitution for amendment, including terms of office of elected officers and autonomy of Local Government Authority. Last week, the senate considered for amendment certain of provisions of Sections 26 to 32of the constitution, which deals with citizenship. Controversy began when the honourable members of the senate considered Section 29, which deals with renunciation of citizenship for amendment. Section 29(1) provides, ‘any citizen of Nigeria of full age who wishes to renounce his Nigerian citizenship shall make a declaration in the prescribed manner for the renunciation.’ Section 29(4) (a) and (b) provides, ‘for the purposes of subsection (1) of this section: (a) “full age” means the age of eighteen years and above;  (b) any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.’ The senate voted to remove the latter, that is, Section 29(4)(b) and the vote was successful in favour of removal. Senator Yerima later raised an objection on the ground that the removal of the provision was ‘un-Islamic,’ citing Second Schedule, Part 1, Item 61 of the constitution, known as ‘Exclusive Legislative List,’ which states ‘the formation, annulment and dissolution of marriages other than marriages under Islamic law and Customary law including matrimonial causes relating thereto.’ The senator mobilized certain like-minds in the senate and got the amendment put to vote again and those who had earlier supported the removal could not muster the two-thirds majority votes required to seal the removal. By two-thirds majority votes, Section 29(4)(b) remains in the constitution.

Having stated the facts, permit me to state before I make my comments and deductions that the senate does not have final power when it comes to the amendment of the constitution. Section 9(2) of the Constitution provides, ‘An Act of the National Assembly for the altertion of this Constitution… shall not be passed in either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of that House and approved by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States.’

Now, flowing from the foregoing facts, please permit me to submit as follows:

  1. That the issue before the senate was not child’s rights or child marriageable age of the Nigerian child.
  2. That Section 29(4)(b) has always being part and parcel of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic and the senate has not passed a new law legalizing child marriage as it is being widely circulated.
  3. That in furtherance to the immediate paragraph, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has never legalized child marriage.
  4. That in furtherance to the foregoing, that the Child’s Rights Act, which was passed into law in July 2003, which by virtue of Section 12 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the domestication of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 is the foundational law today, recognized by the constitution, relating to Child’s Rights in Nigeria and the Act has criminalized Child Marriage in Nigeria.
  5. That in all matters relating to Children in Nigeria, the provisions of the Child’s Rights Act, 2003 supersedes the provisions of all other enactments on children and other matters by virtue of Section 274 of the Child’s Rights Act, 2003.
  6. That by the express provision of Section 277 of the Child’s Rights Act, 2003, which defines a child as anyone below 18 years of age and Sections 21 and 22 of same Act, child marriage and betrothal is not only outlawed but criminalized in Nigeria.
  7. That for the Child’s Rights Act to be enforced in the 36 states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Houses of Assembly of each state must pass (domesticate) it into law, considering the fact that most of the matters relating to children are under concurrent legislative list and that as at today 24 states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria have passed the Act into state Laws. The 12 states that are yet to pass the Act into Law are: Enugu, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto, Kebbi, Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Adamawa, Bauchi, Katsina, and Zamfara.
  8. That as it is today, the states, which have not passed the Child’s Rights Act into state laws, are core northern states and one of the major issues is their disposition towards child marriage and related matters.
  9. That by virtue of Second Schedule, Part 1, Item 61 of the constitution, known as ‘Exclusive Legislative List,’ which states  the areas the National Assembly can make laws on to include, ‘the formation, annulment and dissolution of marriages other than marriages under Islamic law and Customary law including matrimonial causes relating thereto,’ the best option of stakeholders in the life of the child is to put pressure on the states governments of the northern states, which have not passed the Child’s Rights Act into the state laws to do so. As it is, it appears the National Assembly does not have power to legislate on the issues relating to the formation, annulment and dissolution of marriages contracted under Islamic Law and Customary Law.
  10. That in the alternative, stakeholders should agitate for the amendment of Second Schedule, Part 1, Item 61 of the constitution, known as ‘Exclusive Legislative List,’ to read ‘the formation, annulment and dissolution of marriages.’
  11. That, though the Child’s Rights Act, 2003 is not a perfect piece of legislation, it has gone a long way in providing a formidable legal and social frameworks for the protection of the rights of the Nigerian child in the spirit of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 and African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. There are spacious rooms for improvement but the Child’s Rights Act, 2003 is supreme in all matters relating to children except in relation to express provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is the supreme law of the land, from which every other law receives their validity.
  12. That Section 29(4)(b), which provides, ‘any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age’ is in relation to renunciation of citizenship and taking a keener look at the minds of the drafter of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I believe Section 29(4)(b), creates a leeway for a child either born in Nigeria or become a Nigerian by marriage to renounce her citizenship of Nigeria before she is eighteen years old and either seek asylum in another country or return to her country of birth. Please note that in reaching my queer conclusion on Section 29(4)(b), I have decided to take my liberty in considering the Mischief Rule of interpretation of statute, which tries to consider the mischief the drafter of a particular law may be trying to correct.
  13. That what could be the widest interpretation of Section 29(4)(b)? Could someone in any of the states where the Child’s Rights Act, 20003 have been passed into state laws, who contract child marriage, present Section 29(4)(b) as a defence when charged to court for breaching either Section 21 or 22 of the Act? If he does, would such defence hold any water in law? I think not.
  14. That reasoning aloud, could the absence of Section 29(4)(b) save a child from being given out in marriage in the states where the Child’s Rights Act has not been passed into state laws? I also do not think so.
  15. That in my humble opinion, I do not think the removal of Section 29(4)(b will save the Nigerian Child from child marriage, if  we do not collectively put pressure on the core northern states, who are yet to pass the Child’s Rights Act into State laws to do so without further delay.

As far as I am concerned, one incontrovertible gain of the recent constitutional amendment as it relates to Section 29(4)(b) is that it gives stakeholders another golden opportunity to reopen the issue of child protection in Nigeria as it relates particularly to child marriage and the northern parts of Nigeria.

This golden opportunity, I am here to warn is not an end in itself. It is only a means to an end and it can only be a means to an end if we put the issues in the right perspective. What is the end? For me, the end is creating a nation fit for children, built through enlightenment and sustained through child protection social policing. It is not a one-off agenda. It is a lifetime agenda and that is the commitment some of us have made close to two decades ago.

It may interest all stakeholders to note the report a recent survey conducted by the United Nations on the state of the world children. The survey sadly reveals that never in the history of our world have our children been under the kind of siege and abuse they are today. The United Nations Survey exposes a shocking picture of physical, emotional, sexual abuses, neglect and mistreatment of children every corner of the countries of the world. The survey declares, ‘while abuse may be at its worst in the developing world, no country is guiltless.’ The United Nations Survey also reveals ‘International conventions on human rights for children have flatly failed to guarantee protections for the most vulnerable members of society.’

My professional and experiential interpretation of the foregoing submission of the United Nations Survey, cited above is that the law as an independent tool of child right’s protection is as powerless as a paper tiger. Therefore, for the law to make sense, it must be mixed with enlightenment. It is my informed position that Enlightenment is Superior to Enforcement™ of the laws relating to children, their rights and responsibilities. The strength of enlightenment is that it leads to prevention of child abuse. ‘Prevention is better than cure.’

Enlightenment is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. The goal of enlightenment is Child Protection Social Policing™. Child Protection Social Policing™ happens where every primary and secondary custodian within the four (4) institutions (Family, Community, State and International Community) responsible for the protection of the child are equipped with Knowledge (what to do), Skills (how to do it) and Attitude (wisdom and inner strength) to professionally and effectively protect, preserve and defend the rights of the child, even at the cost of personal discomfort.

The United Nations recently supported the position that Enlightenment is Superior to Enforcement™ as it submits, ‘responding to child abuse cases is four times expensive as child protection and protecting children against violence and abuse…’

I hereby rest my case here, calling all of us, who are genuinely interested in matters relating to the well-being of our children to redirect our struggle in the direction of meaningful social engagement, aimed at achieving the best interest of the child through a well articulated agenda.

I think I should sign out here. Thank you for visiting today. Sure you learnt one or two things on how to Think the CHILD…Think TODAY and Think the FUTURE. Have an INSPIRED day.

Taiwo Akinlami. Legal Practitioner, Child Protection Specialist and Consultant to UNICEF wrote from 12, Aba Johnson Crescent, Adeniyi Jones. 234-8033620843 principal@taiwoakinlami.com  http://www.taiwoakinlami.com @taiwoakinlami

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13 thoughts on “Constitution Amendment, Child’s Rights, The Senate and the Rest of us- An UPDATE

  1. Niran Adedokun July 21, 2013 / 10:43 am

    Was looking forward to your contribution to this debate and I am not disappointed. Thanks for the this wonderful piece.

  2. Olaide July 21, 2013 / 7:20 pm

    Thank you for your educative piece. I am quite aware that the issue at hand was about the age at which an individual may renounce citizenship as spelled out in Section 29 of the Nigerian Constitution. Also the vote was on whether to delete (4)(b) of this section which stipulates that anyone who is married, irrespective of the age at which this was done, shall be considered old enough to renounce citizenship. Its quite true that it has always been in the constitution and the senate could not muster two-third votes (albeit at the second round) in favour of its removal. Now, we must not be shortsighted and fail to see the direction this is going. If the issue came up for voting in the first instance, then it may be because it is not in tandem with other sections of the constitution as well as the Child Rights Act of 2003 which recognises 18yrs as the minimum age of marriage. Now had it been any other person but Sherima (with history of a 13yrs old bride) who objected to the deletion on the grounds that it was “unislamic”, then perhaps it might not have such an uproar. Failure to expunge Section 29(4)(b) from the constitution (which is sacrosanct over Child Rights Act which has criminalised child marriage) is tantamount to saying that the constitution recognises the exclusive reserve of some people to marry underage girls under the guise of religion. This can be exploited by lawyers to these paedophiles to justify their acts. What does this portend for our daughters? Mind you, not all states, including Zamfara, have passed the Child Rights Act of 2003 into law and so if the matter ever comes up in a court, the constitution will be cited. If Nigeria is a secular country, our laws should not be influenced by the dictates of any particular religion. I lend my voice to the current brouhaha to send a message to our lawmakers that we will not be docile when matters relating to the fate of our children and the coming generation is being decided.

  3. Charles Chijioke July 21, 2013 / 8:01 pm

    If you need help on the sensitisation program,i can make my self available to see that the life of this children are protected.

  4. AYANDARE MAYOWA July 21, 2013 / 9:45 pm

    Loved every bit of this enligthening piece. It is indeed refreshing and just adds another star to my lonely thoughts that there are many who just antagonise for antagonising sake. Unfortunately many of them are people we look up to to help break down the complex debates of society.

    I was just about writing my take on the ‘childnotbride’ chant tommorow on my FB wall(which I see as my humble platform to express me) having being rehearsing and brooding over the venom I intend to spit for two days now. It would have being interesting but I would have being writing from my table of half truths and ignorance, refrencing scholars who don’t know or pretending not to know.

    Thank you

  5. Rita July 21, 2013 / 11:01 pm

    Quite an informative piece you have written, well done. But if I may make a contribution, The Child Right Act, the Criminal Code and any other state laws that relate with marriage/defilement of an underaged child is enforceable only to the extent accomodated by the ‘Grund Norm’-the consitution. That the CRA is passed in several states currently does not mean that such under 18 protection will subsist if the Yerima proposition finally scales through.
    If Yerima was able to mobilize about 30 colleagues as quickly as he did, we all should be smart enough to rise any forseen doom. What’s to say we should undermine the posibility of more influence in favour of child marriage in all the other constitutional procedures for amendment in the states.
    I concede that the mob may be full of passion but without reason or facts. But such passion is just enough (or even less) for the mess we may subject our children too.
    Nigerians may not currently hold the paper details, but we know we detest the idea of legalizing chils marriage with a passion, and rising up the way we have is also a means to an end. No form of social intervention can be. Of any serious effect if the proposition succeeds. Its 2013, we ought to be fairing better than this. We must do what we can, every Nigerian in his capacity (be it vulgar or intellectual), to protect our future.

  6. ABAYOMI OYELAMI July 22, 2013 / 1:35 am

    sir,thanks for the enlightening piece. i think the public outcry might help,especially in the face of lawyers who might latch on to such loopholes to perpetuate evil.

  7. Taiwo Akinlami July 22, 2013 / 6:35 am

    Thank you all for your comments: praises and mild knocks. I appreciate them all and do not take them for granted at all. May God continue to grant us wisdom and grant us the grace to continue to plead the cause of the future, the cause of our children strategically, tactically and ultimately with wisdom for enduring results in the best interest of the child. I charge you to keep visiting and explore the blog more. I believe there is a lot be learnt by all stakeholders in the life of the child. Thank you once again and have an INSPIRED Day.

  8. olufemi Olulowo July 22, 2013 / 8:44 am

    I am enjoying every bit of the ongoing debate on this issue. I am thankful for the light you have shed to give better direction. I agree that We should be faring better as a Nation on an issue such as this and at a time like this but we need to be more proactive. Our approach as watchdog should be preventive not curative. I believe we should constantly monitor and check the activities of the people we have mandated to represent us. The vote in opposition to the deletion of sub 4b of Section 29 was not cast by the northerners alone; Sen. Ugbesia Odion (Edo Central, PDP) and Sen. Ayo Akinyelure (Ondo Central, Labour Party) who are from constituencies where CRA is in force were part of the set back! Can we say that the votes of these Senators is a representation of the wishes of their people? Please, let us cry out when and where it matters lest we are faced with a situation of ‘Medicine after death’.

  9. cynthia Umetiti July 22, 2013 / 9:55 am

    Well elucidating and simple for all to understand.Thank you for educating the whole lot of us.Good piece.

  10. Olumide Bamiloshin July 22, 2013 / 10:09 am

    Informative and educative piece. My understanding of the argument has increased. I watched Senator Yerima making arguement for the retention of that clause based on religion. I read the response of the senator to social critics(childnotbride), also I read write-ups by other muslims, and now your piece. I come to the conclusion that the crusaders(childnotbride) have read the mind of this man and unfortunately, the Senate, and knowing that some lawyers have a way of beclouding our reasenoning (by virtue of d lacuna btw the CRA and section 29.4b), the crusade is justified. And it is in the interest of our dear country and our children, that we rise to the occassion via our expression and coordinated approach to solve our problems as they arise.

  11. 'Tunde July 22, 2013 / 10:18 am

    We really need to keep putting our lawmakers in check whenever they are about making decisions that will affect generations to come but how can this be done when the citizens don’t even care to know what has been in the constitution for decades….Thank you so much sir for this eye opening piece and together we shall make this great Nation a better place to be.

  12. Bosun Adedokun July 24, 2013 / 12:38 pm

    Reblogged this on Bosun Adedokun and commented:
    My friend Taiwo Akinlami share his thought on the #ChildNotBride debate.

  13. George Ukwuoma July 24, 2013 / 6:28 pm

    I must commend you for the well thought of piece and the brilliance with which you have submitted your points. For me, I will say that one major setback in our country Nigeria is the myopic approach to real issues which only shows a shallow grasp of facts. The amendment of Section 29(4)(b) does not have connection or bearing with the legalisation or illegalisation of child marriage in nigeria for the sole reason that this section has been in the constitution all this while and the Child rights Act was birthed. The Childs Right Act cannot be prohibiting what the Constitution has already allowed. Be minded that the constitution has not legalised child marriage in any way. To me it makes more sense if we severe these issues and stop the bickering.

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