April 29, 2010 / 4:03 PM / 9 years ago

Nigeria probes senator accused of marrying child

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s parliament on Thursday launched an investigation into whether a 49-year-old senator illegally married an underage girl, a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.

Women’s rights groups have demanded the resignation of Senator Ahmed Yerima, accusing him of marrying an Egyptian teenager in violation of the OPEC member’s child rights law.

“If we have a man like Senator Yerima in the senate, what happens to our Act (law) on child abuse?,” said Chinelo Iriele, head of the Global Association of Female Attorneys.

Ethics committees from both chambers of parliament have begun investigations on Yerima, who could not immediately be reached for comment.

In an interview with the local newspaper Daily Trust published on Thursday, Yerima said his wife was not as young as 13-years-old — as reported in the Nigerian media — but refused to give her age, saying it was an invasion of her privacy.

As governor of Nigeria’s northwestern Zamfara state, Yerima introduced the strict enforcement of Islamic law, sharia along with 11 other northern states in 2000.

Under sharia a person is allowed to marry at any age as long as parental consent is provided. But states and the federal government have imposed varying minimum age requirements, ranging from under 14 to 18-years-old.

Africa’s most populous nation is roughly equally divided between a mainly Muslim north and largely Christian south.

More than 200 ethnic groups generally live peacefully side by side but there have been regular outbreaks of violence, particularly in the “Middle Belt” separating the north and south, where sectarian clashes have killed hundreds this year.

Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Matthew Jones

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