The use of ICTs to express public outrage in Nigeria over child marriage
Is public opposition to child marriage in Nigeria increasing?
Despite the Nigerian Senate passing a law criminalising child marriage in 2003, only 24 of the 36 states have adopted the law. This concise paper, written by John Dada of the Fantsuam Foundation, concerns the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) by civil society to express outrage in Nigeria over the practice of child marriage.
The challenges faced by activists are considerable when one considers how entrenched the practice of child marriage is in Nigeria. For instance, the Senate could not muster the number of votes needed to expunge a clause in the 1999 constitution that assumes that any woman who is married is also an adult, something opponents take as an endorsement of child brides. Furthermore, recent protests erupted regarding the case of Senator Ahmed Sani Yarima, divorced his wife in 2010 whom he had married when she was 15, before proceeding to marry a 13 year old girl.
Such actions have led to widespread condemnation by the Nigerian press, websites, magazines, bloggers and the electronic media, which transmitted citizens’ concerns. The Women Empowerment and Legal Aid (WELA) initiative called for the prosecution of Senator Yerima, while significant former women ministers called publicly for the removal of the offensive constitutional clause. This was indicative of a wider trend, with the author noting that women were generally the most vocal on this issue.
In the end, several kinds of ICTs were mobilised to keep the issue in the public domain long enough to force a back down by the Nigerian Senate. Yet these instances highlight the underlying gender inequalities that, despite numerous declarations and agreements (Nigeria was one of the first African countries to ratify CEDAW), continue to impact women in Nigeria today.
There is a need to work closely with civil society groups whose focus is on women’s rights to raise public awareness regarding the non-domestication of CEDAW, as well as that of the Convention on the Rights of the Child through the Child Rights Act, which has yet to be endorsed by some Nigerian states.
Finally, the paper urges sustained and coordinated action by civil society to monitor and evaluate the Nigerian Government’s proposed bill regarding online surveillance powers to ensure that ICTs can continue to function as a medium for open public discourse and organisation.