I think it is time we break this culture of silence and speak openly about some of these “unspeakable subjects”. Why must we stay quiet or silent when things are going wrong around us? Is it because we are part of the perpetrators of these ills? We must begin to address these issues openly and that is why in this column today we ask the direct question – ARE YOU A PAEDOPHILE?

A paedophile is an adult or older adolescent person who is sexually attracted to prepubescent children.

Are you one of those men who lure little girls selling bananas and groundnuts into thinking they want to buy their goods, and then rape them? Many of us have heard stories of such horror stories in our communities.

And are you okay with the practice of marrying off young prepubescent girls? Is this not encouraging paedophiles? Why must a girl of 9, 10 or 11 lose her innocence and childhood?

In Nigeria, 43% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday and 17% are before they turn 15. There are regional differences with figures as high as 76% in the North West and as low as 10% in the South East.

The Nigerian Constitution does not establish a minimum age of marriage. There is a section in the Constitution, though not related to the legal age of marriage, has been seen as encouraging child marriage. Section 29 of the Constitution refers to situations in which Nigerian citizens may renounce their citizenship, stipulating that citizens must be of full age to do so. The section states that “full age means the age of eighteen years and above”. However, Section 29 (4)(b) specifies that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age”.

The Child Rights Act, which was passed in 2003, sets the age of marriage at 18 years old. According to the law any person below 18 is incapable of agreeing to a valid marriage, and a penalty of ‎₦ 500,000 or five years’ imprisonment or both, is handed down to a parent, guardian or any person who facilitates such marriages. Each state of the federation has to enact this act under its own state laws before it is enforceable, but not all states have done so. It is estimated that only 23 of Nigeria’s 36 states have taken concrete steps to implement the minimum age of marriage.

The current state of affairs means that a social evil such as child marriage can and will continue to be practiced in a state that is yet to pass the Child Rights Act as domestic law. The states make laws in consonance with its religion, culture and tradition. There should be no moderation in protecting the rights of a defenceless child in the name of culture, religion or tradition.

Efforts to address child marriage have helped as data shows a 9% decline in the prevalence of child marriage since 2003. But while we continue to make strides to address laws and institutions which encourage child marriages and paedophilia in our country, we as individuals must take action, because it is our business to stop a child from being abused. People know what is going on, but no one takes action, because they feel it is not their business. Will it become our business only when our children are abused? What is this apathy that inhabits us?!

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