Legal and Rights based Approaches in Ending Child Marriage

The project – Building Collaboration, Partnerships and Political Commitment to Delay Early Marriage and the Onset of Childbearing in Northern Nigeria – funded by Ford Foundation and anchored Action Aid Nigeria aims at delaying the practice of early/child marriage in Northern Nigeria. The project brought together 5 CSOs to implement the recommendations from a Ford Foundation’s Report titled ‘Mapping Early Marriage in West Africa’.

Working through Laws and rights—e.g., advocacy for the domestication and adoption of the Child Rights Law, the implementation of the Children and Young Persons Law, and laws to elimination of the hidden costs” of secondary education were key elements of the project expected to be implemented by the leading NGO working in the advocacy space – the Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative (IWEI).

As a leading rights-based non-profit in Kano state, Isa Wali Empowerment was co-opted into the project to contribute the important piece of working with legislators. In this project, IWEI aimed to strengthen child rights protection mechanisms by advocating for the passage the Child Rights (Protection) Bill in Kano state which had been pending before the Kano State House of Assembly since 2010.1 IWEI decided on this action based on its assessment of inadequate laws on child Rights protection in the state.2

Background to the IWEI intervention: Early initiatives to work through Laws and Rights-based Approaches to delay early marriage in Kano State

The law and rights based approach to ending child marriage entails putting in place mechanisms and legal frameworks to prevent early and child marriage (through legislations) and empowering people to know and claim their rights and increasing the ability and accountability of individuals and institutions who are responsible for respecting, protecting and fulfilling rights.3

In Kano state, prior to this project, efforts were made to adapt the Child Rights Act with a view to domesticate the law to fit into the context, culture and religion of the people of the state. A committee constituted to revise the Child Rights Act of 2003 to conform to Islamic precepts, culture and morality of the Muslim majority Kano state came up with Kano State Child’s (Protection) Bill, of 2010.

According to Mallam Muhammed Mashi, the Coordinator Child Protection Network of Kano State:

‘… there was a committee which was organized by the state government after domestication of the Child Rights Act at the national level, the state [wanted to] domesticate it. There were so many accusations, allegations, politics in the issue of domesticating Child Right Act in Kano state as I understand it…. I think a lot of attempts were made by the Kano state legislature several times to domesticate but it gets into a stumbling storm somewhere, somehow.

[Regarding] the Child Protection) Bill of 2010 …… Initially, I think [it]was presented [before the Kano State House Assembly] but brought back for some  amendments and corrections here and there….the Ministry of Women Affairs in collaboration and partnership with Ministry of Justice are trying to sponsor the bill’4 . However, to date that effort has not been successful”.  The absence of a child rights law has made it difficult for the states to have adequate structures and a framework, such as a Child Rights Implementation Protection Committee [CRIC] which is provided for under the CRA as contained in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).5

The IWEI project intervention – Advocacy for Law and Rights

IWEI designed its intervention in this project around two action points –

  1. legislative advocacy for the passage of the Child Protection Bill before the Kano state House of Assembly and the introduction of the new law on Free Compulsory Education.
  2. education policy reform to integrate Islamic and Western education and improve the standard of education.

In this project, IWEI aimed to secure girls’ education by catalyzing government to enact a law that will make secondary education mandatory for all, girls and boys. Once the law on education is passed, they contended early marriages will be delayed. However, the reluctance of parents to allow daughters to complete  secondary schools was recognized so IWEI moved on to advocate for education policy reform integrating Islamic and western education and ensure quality of same. IWEI contended that the introduction of the policy will encourage parents to allow their daughters to stay in school up to Senior Secondary School 3 levels especially in the rural areas.