Masari signs child protection bill allowing underage marriage

The Katsina Governor, Aminu Masari, has assented to the Child Protection Bill.

The Chief Registrar of the Katsina State High Court, Kabir Shua’ibu, confirmed the development in an interview with reporters.

The assembly passed the bill to protect children from abuse. It, however, said the legislation will not regulate the age of marriage for Muslim children.

The development means although the Child Right Protection Bill defines a child as a person below the age of 18 and seeks to protect them from abuse, it will still not protect certain underaged persons from being married off.

Earlier, the House Committee chairman on the Child Protection Bill, Musa Nuhu, said passage of the bill will end the prevalence of child rape, child labour ”and forced and underage marriage in the state”.

The problem of early marriage is particularly prominent in northern Nigeria.

Katsina State is one of the northern states affected by child marriages and street children (Almajiri) menace in the country.

The act covers key aspects of the lives of children and adolescents. It is divided into ”survival rights, development rights, participation rights, and protection rights”.

The first article of the law, however, gives the Sharia law supremacy over the child protection law.

It says the Sharia will take precedence if any matter in the new law concerning a Muslim child goes against the religious law. Islam is the predominant religion in Katsina.

On marriage, it argues that a child’s maturity goes beyond the idea of puberty.

The bill, however, says ”there should be counselling by parents to evaluate the development of their children before marrying them off.”

Meanwhile, Mr Shua’ibu said the governor has assented to the bill ”so child protection has become a law in the state”.

The governor reportedly assented to the bill on December 29, 2020, after the state’s lawmakers unanimously approved the bill on November 25.

The bill was reintroduced as an executive bill by Mr Masari on March 3.

The assembly first introduced the Child Right Act in 2003, but later renamed it Child Right Protection Law after legislators had consultations with religious leaders.

Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act in 2003 to domesticate the international convention on the rights of a child.

Meanwhile, in the North-west, Kaduna passed a similar law in 2018, while Kano, Sokoto, Kebbi, and Zamfara are yet to do the same. Jigawa passed the Child’s Right Act, but later repealed it in 2012. It reintroduced the bill in September.

The lawmakers in Jigawa said the law was repealed due to inadequate input from citizens and ambiguous sections that needed explanations.

Also, the bill, a domestication of the Federal Act, was signed into law by the then secretary to the state government, which was not the right procedure.

The Kano government had in January, 2020, said its bill had been forwarded to the state’s assembly.

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