Informatively, there has been wrong misinformed news circulating on the internet in respect of the actual age of consent in Nigeria.
Sadly, many Nigerians have been misled by several websites owned and managed by non-Nigerians. Hence, we’ll be revealing the real age of consent in Nigeria today.
But before then, it’s very important to briefly explain what “age of consent” itself actually means.
What is the age of consent?
The age of consent can simply be defined as the age when a male and female child is supposed to be able to agree or give consent to intimate intercourse.
That is to say, that particular age in which a child is said to have reached puberty stage and can agree or consent to marriage or intercourse on his own.
This stage of human growth is regarded as the age of consent. However, we shall be considering some provisions of the law in this regard.
Why the consent age?
Knowing the consent age for marriage or intimate intercourse as a Nigerian is very paramount. Remember that it’s a crime to have sex with a child below 16 years even if she consented.
So knowing the age of consent in accordance with the provisions of the laws is very important.
Most especially, where rape, pedophilia, and sexual harassment have intensified in our society now. Thus, the age of consent has been a subject of debate.
What the law says about age of consent in Nigeria
The real and actually age of consent in Nigeria as at the time of writing this article is 18. This is evidenced in Section 31 (3) (a) of the Child’s Rights Act 2003 states that.
Section 31 (3) (a) of the Child’s Right Act, 2003 provide as follows “Where a person is charged with an offence (of unlawful sexual relations with a child) under this section (31 of the same act), it is immaterial that the offender believed the person to be of or above the age of eighteen years.”
Going by the above cited provision, it is obvious that the Law didn’t explicitly stated that the actual age of consent in Nigeria is 18.
However, the whole of Section 31 of the Child’s Rights Act purports that the age of 18 years is the hallmark that differentiate an adult from a child.
On this note, if the age of eighteen years is then mentioned, such age is a determinant factor whether anyone can give their consent or not to have sex.
While there are lots of arguments and debate on this simply because the law is not clear enough, it’s important to note that same Child’s Rights Act sets the minimum age for marriage to be 18 years.
Legally speaking, using the Mischief Rule to interpret the Section 31 of the Child’s Right Act, 2013, one will come to the realization of the mischief the provision seeks to rectify.
Another thing to consider is the fact that the constitution which happened to be the supreme law of the land is also silent on the minimum age of consent in Nigeria.
Be that as it may, Section 7 of the Sexual Offences Bill prohibits sexual intercourse with a child between the ages of 0 to 18. The perpetrator shall be punished with life imprisonment upon conviction.
Section 7 of the Sexual Offences Bill states that;
A person who commits an act which causes penetration with a child is guilty of an offence called defilement.
A person who commits an offence of defilement with a child aged eleven years or less shall upon conviction be sentenced to imprisonment for life.
A person who commits an offence of defilement with a child between the age of twelve and fifteen years is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for life.
A person who commits an offence of defilement with a child between the age of sixteen and eighteen years is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for life.
In the same vein, the Matrimonial Causes Act is also silent on the minimum age for marriage in Nigeria.
Section 3 (1) (e) of the same Act, which states reasons why a contracted marriage could be void ab initio only mentions a ‘marriageable age’.
What “marriageable age” means according to the Act is ambiguous and unknown. Perhaps, it’s a question of law that needs judicial interpretation.
However, Section 18 (1) of Marriage Act clearly and categorically specifies the minimum age for marriage when consent is required to be 21.
Of all the Statutes and Laws being in force in Nigeria right now, the Child’s Rights Act is the most explicit one stating the minimum age for marriage to be 18.
But notwithstanding, this Act is adopted by only 24 out of 36 Nigerian States.
Section 18 of the Child’s’ Rights Act 2003 states that, “No person under the age of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid marriage, and accordingly a marriage so contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever.”
Marriage practices in Nigeria
Other than the English marriage (popularly known as white marriage), there are other systems of marriages within Nigeria.
These systems of marriages include the Muslim marriage and the Traditional marriage. These two types of marriages are also recognized by our law.
In some part of the country, the age of the bride is just a number, what matters is the development of the girl’s body.
Some tribes also marry girls of 12 to 15 years. However, the consummation of such marriage do happen after the girl has reached an adult age.
In the Northern part of Nigeria and in some Muslim community, marriages are carried out in accordance with the Islamic or Shari’ah law.
The bride can be 11, 13, or 15 years old. Although there are no compulsion or restrictions for marrying at such age.
Other than that, consents to such marriage must come from the girl herself and not from her parents.
And she must be physically, mentally, physiologically, and phycology ready to get married. Where all these are missing, then she’s not fit.
Take notice that the real age of consent in Nigeria is 18 and not 11 as it’s been misinformed by many foreign websites.