Bombshell as Nigeria government makes 11 years age of sexual consent

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Child marriage courtesy - Vannesa Vick for New York Times.

Child marriage courtesy – Vannesa Vick for New York Times.

In just over a month that we celebrated Nigeria’s leading steps in protecting the rights of the girl child by abolishing the culture of Female Genital Mutilation, making it a criminal offence, Nigeria has gone another 10 steps backwards in refuting what seemed like a progress in protecting the girl child. In passing a rather inconsistent sexual offence Bill, Nigeria senate has caused yet another controversy and confusion as the new bill makes 11 years the age of consent. We fail to comprehend what their definition of a child would mean.

The Bill, which proposes life imprisonment for rapists and those who have sexual intercourse with children below 11 years has been called barbaric by women rights campaigners causing an out cry as this effectively legalises having sex with children from age of 11 as it ‘sought to redefine and consolidate’ existing laws on sexual offences. The bill sponsored by Igbo controversial Senator Chris Anyanwu also has proposes life imprisonment in the case of gang rape, child sex tourism and other child related sex offences and 10 years imprisonment for child pornography, incest and a N2m fine for several other sexual offences including as listed – lacing drinks with drugs with intent to sexually abuse, cultural and religious sexual offences, knowingly infecting partner with HIV and other diseases.
Staking this bill to convict child sex offences at below 11, makes one to wonder what the senates definition of a child is. Clearly setting scout free paedophiles who violate young children in the name of marriage, culture and religion.

Senator Anyanwu said: “The Sexual Offences Law seeks to make a comprehensive legislation on sexual offences by criminalising certain acts such as sexual tourism, child pornography and cultural and religious sexual offences in our criminal jurisprudence. The new law also provides for effective witness protection programme to protect victims and witnesses in trial for sexual offences.”
This is not the first time Nigeria senate will cause controversy in cases of child sex offences. Last year, we saw a surge of social media out cry and campaign #AchildNotaBride which went viral globally as women and girl child rights campaigners challenge the July 2014 Nigeria Senate approval of a bill recognising child brides and inadvertently legalising paedophilic marriages. It was understood that the bill was sponsored by former Zamfara State governor Ahmed Yerima who himself is notorious for marrying 12 and 15 year olds. It is not clear Senator Anyanwu’s intentions for this awkward passing of this bill, whether to protect fellow senators who already have child brides or for her own personal reasons. The world is waiting to hear Nigeria’s new president Buhari’s comment on this bill.