Nigerian Senate Fails to End Muslim Practice of Marrying Little Girls

"Aisha, nine, does not have the words for what happened to her on her wedding night."


In July word spread like wildfire in Nigeria through news websites, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook that the Nigerian Senate had voted to legitimise child marriage.

As part of its review of some sections of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Senate took a vote on July 16 concerning the removal of clause 29 (4)(b).

That clause states that "any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age", essentially legitimising child marriages by establishing that any girl younger than 18 is automatically mature enough to handle the responsibilities and realities of marriage by virtue of her involvement in the act of marriage itself.

This is blatantly circular since it essentially eliminates any minimum age of marriage or the crime of statutory rape. If a little girl is married, then she's retroactively deemed old enough to have married.

The acknowledgement of child marriage would have been on its way out of the constitution if it had not been for the intervention of one particular Senator. Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima of Zamfara West led calls on the floor of the Senate to reject the constitutional committee's recommendation for removing the clause.

Yerima, who himself is widely believed to have married a 13-year-old girl in 2009, pushed for a second vote on the matter following an initial vote which had produced the majority required to remove the clause, arguing that under Islamic law a woman is of age once she is married, and that Nigeria cannot legislate on marriages under Islamic rites.

Yerima's invocation of Islamic law succeeded in forcing a second vote as President of the Senate, David Mark, recognised the issue as "sensitive".

Sensitive means Muslims will kill over it. Meanwhile what is that kind of like like.

Aisha, nine, was quietly rushed through the corridors of Zamfara's Faridat Yakubu general hospital. Its cheerful cornflower blue walls belie stories of the hidden horrors of early marriage. Aisha does not have the words for what happened to her on her wedding night. Her husband, she says, did something "painful from behind".

Nearby, Halima was on her third visit in three years. "I like it here. It is the only time I ever see a television," she says. Just shy of 13, the newlywed came under pressure to demonstrate her fertility. "I thought [being in labour] would never end," she adds softly.