The Curse of Double Standards (Part 1)

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

I pride myself on keeping abreast with the happenings at home, despite being in 'diaspora'. I get my daily (and sometimes hourly) dose of gist mainly through the internet, and via my sisters á blogging i.e. linda ikeji, bellanaija, naija vibe, e.t.c. The amebo helps in keeping my busy mind busy, and ensuring I'm still on board with the trends at home.

So about three weeks ago, I woke up one morning and discovered that the Nigerian media hemisphere was agog with news of a proposed 'Child Marriage Bill' being contemplated in the Nigerian National Assembly. According to the 'media' sources, the intent of the bill was to legalise the marriage of female minors i.e. people below the age of 18 years. 

Overnight, every Nigerian seemed to have turned into some sort of legal analyst cum human rights activist. Heated arguments were dispersed on both sides of the said bill, but the general pulse was one of horror at the seeming slavery with which the Nigerian female race was in danger of.

Truth be told, I initially joined the bandwagon of rightly angered citizens who verbally ripped the National Assembly apart. The name/thought of certain 'honourable' members always left a bad taste in my mouth, and I wished I could assume a female Robin Hood, ride home in my magic horse and slay all the despots, while setting the female captives free. However, my inner sleuth swung into action, and decided to do a little research, before adopting my superpowers. My research paid off, and I discovered that the public had to a large extent been misled by the media.

It turned out that there was never a Child Marriage Bill before the National Assembly. Rather, it was an existing law - S. 29 of the 1999 Constitution - that had spun the controversy. The law had been contemplated for amendment, but the amendment was resisted by some of the lawmaker. In summary, the law provides that for one to be able to renounce citizenship, such person must be an adult i.e. have attained 18 years. However, an exception to this is with regards females, so that where they are married, they are deemed 'adult' enough to renounce citizenship. This law pertains to only citizenship and not marriage in general. Age requirements for marriage in Nigeria is otherwise governed by the Marriage Act and Matrimonial Causes Act, which allow a minor (even a nine year old child) to get married, in so far as parental consent is primarily obtained.

Upon clarifying this bit of miscommunication by the media (because the media is guilty of having perpetuated this confusion), my immediate reaction was one of instant relief. That contrary to popular opinion, my country's laws are not being made by a bunch of senile pedophiles. Well ... to the best of the public knowledge. (Although contention may exist in this regard, as one of the lawmakers is said to have recently found a missing part of one of his numerous ribs in a girl 13year old child. But that is discussion for another day). My perspective on this whole issue is quite outside the box. I apply the larger picture to the issues raised, and choose to discuss them more holistically.

My grouse is the double standards which the law, the reaction to the law and our general values system embodies. Everything surrounding the nature of this law screams to me "DOUBLE STANDARDS!!!" Before you begin your applause on my activism, hold still and listen to (or read) what I have to say, and then weigh in on my musings.

Everyone is seen to be clamouring for 'protection' of the girl child from marriage, and there is even in circulation a very passionate 'plea' by a well-known female actor, asking for young female children to be rescued from the insatiable appetite of members of the parliament. If I may ask though, who is clamouring for protection of the girl (or boy) child from slavery in the name of child labour? Who is talking about the Child Rights Act, to ensure children should be in schools during the day and doing homework at night, rather than washing oga's shirts and pounding madam's fufu. Or hawking on the streets. Or cleaning shoes. Or performing labour meant for adults. Truth is, no one is. 

I would not be surprised to discover that majority of the members of public clamouring for freedom of the girl child from early marriage are guilty of child slavery, in one guise or the other. Some lawyer somewhere, pecking away furiously at her/his computer preparing a petition against the marriage of children, will probably close shop at the end of the day, and beat the living daylight of her servant (or 'cousin') for failing to complete house chores.

Child slavery is common place in Nigeria. It is often disguised as benevolence on the part of kind mistresses/masters for taking in the suffering child under their wings, somewhat akin to the benevolence displayed by sly Fagin to Oliver Twist. It is conveniently overlooked, because 'everyone needs a house-help'. Any arguments to the contrary would elicit the most intellectual responses regarding the communal nature of our  culture, and how the house-help syndrome is a necessary evil for the survival of the society. 

The Nigerian community basically thrives on child labour. After all, who will wash the cars, sweep the floors, clean the pots, make the beds, sell groceries in the convenience stores etc., if not the 'cousin' from the village? Hence, the implicit message from the (sans) discussion of child rights is that it is alright for children to be made slaves. It is just not alright for them to be married slaves. This last point thus explains the resistance to the thought of child marriage.

But the curse of double standards which I glean from the brouhaha over the Child Marriage issue is not fully exhausted. Keep your eyes/ears to the ground for the remaining part of this discussion, which will be completed in the second part of this post. In the meantime, share your thoughts me...


 Disclaimer: The pictures used do not belong to me, but are taken from Google.

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