Senator Odion Ugbesia representing Edo Central Senatorial District has been asked by about 28 Nigerians and organisations in the diaspora, to withdraw his purported support for the section of the constitution widely seen as encouraging underage marriage.
“We expect that as our representative, you will be prepared to take responsibility for your actions in your duties on our behalf. To paraphrase a wise saying, when we cannot stand for our values, they become hobbies. In that spirit, we ask that you make a public and unconditional written retraction of your support against the repeal of Section 29(4b) of the constitution as soon as possible to align with the wishes and aspirations of members of your constituency on this issue”, a statement signed by Prof. Joseph Igietseme (USA), Dr. Joan Osa Oviawe, Facilitator, Voices of Edo Women (USA), among others, berated Ugbesia for his inability to meet the expectations of his constituents.
“Furthermore, considering the fact that serious socio-cultural issues bordering on abuse of the girl child, including girl-child trafficking and prostitution, and inequities in educational opportunities and community/traditional rights, are also burning issues in Edo State; we are also using this opportunity to call on you to publicly unveil a progressive and concrete agenda for the empowerment of the girl-child and of women in Edo Central Senatorial District and your support in general for the empowerment of girls and women in Edo State and Nigeria,” the statement said further.
“Your statements and actions so far do not encourage us to believe that you have really thought about the gravity and ramifications of the vote relating to underage girls that you recently cast at the Nigerian Senate, and that you are prepared to constructively dialogue and address the worldwide concerns,” the concerned Nigerians said.
Giving their interpretation of Section 29 (4b) of the Constitution that states: ‘…Any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age,’ they said: “The meaning of this provision is to the effect that although the same Constitution considers 18 years the legal limit for adulthood, which also signals the beginning of the right to vote, a married girl who is under the age of 18 will be considered an adult for the purposes of renouncing her citizenship.
“By extension, that means any girl child, no matter how young she is, who has been married off to someone (no matter how that happened), is considered an adult because she is married. Her biological, physical, emotional and mental maturity is not taken into consideration in considering her an adult.
“What qualifies her to become what we can call ‘artificial adult’ is simply the fact of her being married. Your vote appears to support this culture of institutionalised underage marriage; if you don’t support underage marriage as you now profess, why would you vote that a product of the archaic practice should be recognized and classified as an adult in the contemporary Nigerian society?”
“Besides, declaring a girl under 18 to be an adult once she was “married” also implied she could vote in an election,” the concerned Nigerians said.