What is the marriageable age in Nigeria?

Under the Marriage Act, marriageable age does not appear to be clear enough because it does not really set a minimum age limit below which anyone can get married. What could, however, be inferred from the wordings of some sections[1] of the Act is that any person under 21 years cannot marry under the Act, unless the person is either a widow or widower, without parental consent first obtained in writing. This means that a person above 21 years can get married without his or her parents’ consent, while a person of any age below 21 years can get married only if his or her parents give their consent in writing. However, it is an offence for a person to marry another person who is below 21 years without parental consent. This is not the case in some other countries where marriageable age is clearly set by the law. For instance, in the UK, marriageable age is 16 years for girls and boys, while in the US, some states have 12 years for girls and 14 years for boys[2].

  Although it should be stated that the Child’s Rights Act[3] provides for 18 years as marriageable age, the law does not have nationwide application as the Marriage Act. Yet, while many states have replicated the law at state level, some states, especially in the North, have not enacted it. Again, a provision in the Nigerian Constitution[4] appears not to support the pegging of marriageable age at 18 because of its tacit support for child marriage.

[1]. Sections 11 (1) (b) & 18.
[2]. Caroline Mortimer, “World minimum marriage age: Chart shows the lowest age you can legally get married around the world”, available at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/the-lowest-age-you-can-legally-get-married-around-the-world-10415517.html  (visited last on 11th June, 2016).
[3]. Section 21 of the Act provides “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.”
[4]. Section 29 (4) (b) of the 1999 Constitution states that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age”, irrespective of her real biological age, even if she is just 13 years old. It will be recalled that one of the federal law-makers who opposed the moves to amend this section in the Constitution in 2013 was Senator Ahmed Yerima who reportedly married a 13 year-old Egyptian girl.