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Amend marriage act, save women, girl child from domestic violence-N/Assembly urged

With the increase of domestic violence against women and the girl child, stakeholders are calling on the lawmakers to amend the Marriage Act. writes Peter Fowoyo

Section 18 of the Marriage Act 1955 under the heading: “Consent to marriage of minors” provides that: ‘If either party to an intended marriage, not being a widower or widow, is under twenty‐one years of age, the written consent of the father,

or if he be dead or of unsound mind or absent from Nigeria, of the mother, or if both be dead or of unsound mind or absent from Nigeria, of the guardian of such party, must be produced annexed to such affidavit as aforesaid before a license can be granted or a certificate issued’.

In other words, all it takes to make a marriage valid is the consent and that once the consent is obtained the age of the child is not relevant. Therefore, a father/mother/guardian can marry off a minor provided the required consent is given.

However, stakeholders in the judiciary sector, as well as members of the public, penultimate week rose from an emergency meeting at the 15th year anniversary of the Crusade for Justice (CJ) annual lecture held at the Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos urging members of the National Assembly to amend the laws so that age of a minor should also be put into cognizance before they are given out in marriage.

They opined at the lecture themed: “Celebrating the Nigerian Woman; A Hallmark of Excellence”, that it is when the members of the National Assembly carried out this important legislative function that there will be reduction in the growing rate of domestic violence against women and the girl child across the country.

Dignitaries, artisans, market men and women, various sociopolitical groups who attended the event were of the opinion that this law should be reviewed and age of the person intending to be married be taken into cognizance instead of parental consent which often times lead to forced or child marriage.

In attendance were former President, Nigerian Bar Association, Austin Alegeh SAN, Vice President of the association, Mr. Monday Ubani,, as well as the National Welfare Secretary, Mr. Ade Adegbite, Chief Registrar, Lagos High Court, Mrs. A. O. Soladoye,

and Chief Magistrates Bosede Botoku and Ipaye Nwanchukwu. Discussants of the paper presentation include: Mrs. Titiola Vivour-Adeniyi, Coordinator, Lagos state Domestic Violence Rescue Team, Mrs. O. Salami, Executive Director, Office of the Public Defender and Dr. Nwudego N. Chinwuba, an associate professor of law from the University of Lagos.

The Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, in his remarks said the title of the lecture calls for our collective action as “it is a critical challenge undermining the capacity of women and the girl child to fully actualize their potentials.”

Mr. Ambode, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Women Affairs, Mrs. Abiola Adetutu Liadi, reiterated the commitment of the state government to put an end to the menace of domestic and sexual violence and also bringing the perpetrators of such acts to justice.

The governor said an evidence of this commitment is the recent commissioning of the DNA and Forensic Laboratory Center aimed at providing solid evidence for cases of domestic violence.

“The Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) has been doing a good job especially with the number of victims coming forward to seek justice.

The culture of silence under which the evil act of gender based abuse/violence is perpetuated is gradually being abolished.

Non governmental organizations such as Crusade for Justice are enjoined to support the work of DSVRT through advocacy and other means to ensure that incidence of domestic abuse and sexual violence are put under check in Lagos state.”

Welcoming participants to the event chaired by Prof. Paul Ananaba SAN, President, CJ, Mr. Richard Nwankwo, noted that ” government at all segments should energize and give greater impetus to our extant laws by giving them some measure of bite if these challenges are to be surmounted and reasonably checked.”

Enumerating the factors responsible for domestic violence to include: low education, child maltreatment, exposure to violence within the family, alcohol abuse, attitudes that accept violence and gender inequality to mention a few, Nwankwo said: “Our great worry here is, what is the government doing about these challenges?

When we say that our mothers, wives and female children, belong to the kitchen, does this not amount to psychological violence? Does that not indirectly amount to some sort of incentive to violence against women?”

The guest speaker, Boma Ayomide Alabi, in her Lecture titled:”Combating Domestic and Sexual Violence Through Judicial Actions and Activism” said:

“Child marriage is a manifestation of violence against women and girls but however, it is sad that this is too often ignored because in many instances parents feel it is in their daughter’s best interest to marry at a young age.

They believe marriage will protect her against physical or sexual assault, unfortunately, child marriage puts women and girls at even a higher risk of sexual, physical and psychological violence throughout their lives.”

She said child marriage should be seen as a form of domestic violence and should not be tolerated: “We will not end violence against women and girls as long as girls marry as children:

There is a growing movement of people around the world determined to put a stop to violence against women and girls.

The scale of child marriage means that we cannot hope to achieve this without addressing a practice that leaves girls vulnerable to many different forms of violence.

“Globally, 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. Without concerted action, this number will grow: the total number of women married in childhood could increase to over 1.2 billion by 2050.

“Child brides are more vulnerable to physical violence: Girls who marry as children are particularly at risk of violence from their partners or their partners’ families. They are consistently more likely to be beaten or threatened by their husbands than girls who marry later.

The greater the age difference between girls and their husbands, the more likely they are to experience intimate partner violence.

“Often married to much older men, child brides are more likely to believe that a man is sometimes justified in beating his wife than women who marry later.

Globally, 44% of girls aged 15-19 think a husband or a partner is justified in hitting or beating his wife or partner in certain circumstances. In Africa and the Middle East, this figure is above half.”

On the harmful traditional practices, Boma Alabi stated that: “Action on child marriage will send the clear message that violence against girls and women can never be excused in the name of tradition or culture.

When girls marry before 18, their lives are all too often marked by an unspoken, yet very real, kind of violence; one that is happening, as Ela Bhatt of The Elders describes, “with the consent of society”.

“There is increasing awareness among researchers and policymakers that harmful traditional practices, a form of value-based discrimination, continue to challenge the actualization of women’s rights worldwide.

These practices are rooted in cultural and religious norms that are undergirded by patriarchal interpretations of religious texts and male domination.

Although they are as varied as the cultures in which they occur, a common attribute of these practices is that they are related to women’s sexuality, and are often enforced as a way to keep women in subordinate roles.

Among the most common practices are female genital mutilation, forced marriage, son preference, stoning of women, wife inheritance, widowhood rites, sex selective abortions, child marriage,

public harassment (euphemistically referred to in some countries as “Eve teasing”), bonded labor, abductions, bride price (dowry-related issues), forced impregnation, polygamy, acid attacks, restriction of second daughter’s right to marry,

dedication of girls to temples, maltreatment of widows, burning/beheading women thought to be witches, virginity tests, breast ironing, stereotyping, and marital or date rape.

“These practices continue to grow and evolve through globalisation and migration, with many of them transferring to new locations. Many of these practices are linked to other forms of violence against women;

for instance, the denial of property rights is often linked to the maltreatment of widows, sexual violence to forced marriages, and the receipt of monetary payments for daughters to trafficking.

“Although various international, regional, and domestic measures have been put in place to address these harmful practices, the effectiveness of the mechanisms or measures has been severely compromised by the fact that many of them are grounded in widely accepted cultural and religious norms.

The challenge lies in finding ways to respect diverse cultures without allowing the human rights of women to be curbed by the mores and religious practices of the culture in which they live.

A woman’s human rights are absolute, and may not be limited by those seeking to invoke culture or religion as a justification for practices which violate international human rights standards.

Just as it would be unacceptable to cite religious or cultural norms to justify slavery, a woman may not be denied her human rights simply because of the way her culture or religion views gender roles.”

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