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Nigerian parliament demands underage voting for child brides

Nigeria ranks 11th on the list of countries with highest prevalence of child marriage in the world.

Nigerian Senate floor
Nigerian Senate floor (Credit: Nigeria Guardian)

Nigeria’s electoral umpire, INEC, has come under pressure to tweak legislations proscribing underage voting to clear paths for child brides below legal age to vote.

The campaign, championed by both arms of Nigeria’s federal parliament insists on a review of the country’s electoral law, which pegs the voting age at 18.

A joint committee of the National Assembly on INEC matters, led by Senator Kabiru Gaya (Kano, APC) and rep member Aisha Dukku (APC, Gombe) on Wednesday persuaded the electoral body’s technical committee on electoral reform to grant waivers to underaged married girls to vote during elections.

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“The joint committee has proposed a review of the section of the Electoral Act that pegged the eligibility age of voters at 18 years,” Senator Gaya said at the flag-off ceremony of the technical committee on Wednesday.

He added: “The joint committee has proposed that if a lady who is not up to 18 years is married, she should be considered to be mature enough and be eligible to vote.”

Weighing in on the argument by INEC boss Mahmood Yakubu, who pointed out that the proposal was not in tandem with constitutional provisions, Ms. Dukku insisted that the campaign for underage voting for child brides was backed by public opinion.

“It was one of the submissions on the day of the public hearing in the last Assembly that a married lady or a girl who is not up to 18 years should be considered as an eligible voter,” the Gombe rep member said.

“We should look at it and come up with something instead of throwing it away. It is not from us but from the stakeholders on the day of the public hearing held in the 8th Assembly,” Ms. Dukku stated.

Nigeria’s elections have been notably characterised by a variety of irregularities including underage voting, especially in Northern Nigeria.

The recent campaign by parliament could, however, be construed as an inordinate move to legitimise the practice in the region, in a bid to fortify its voting strength.

Nigeria ranks 11th on the list of countries with highest prevalence of child marriage in the world, with the Northwest zone accounting for as high as 76 percent of the country’s cases, a 2017 report by UNICEF showed. 

The Northwest equally accounts for the highest number of registered voters in the country, with 20 million voters – representing 24 percent of the total, INEC’s voter register for 2019 noted.

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