The Age of consent in Nigeria can be confusing. Due to the ambiguity of the Nigerian constitution as well as the multiethnic and religious set-up of the country, there are different, often contradictory, ages that people proclaim as the legal age of consent.
Before we delve into what the constitution holds as the age of consent, it is essential that we first define what consent is.
What is consent?
Consent is agreeing to something. In this case, it means actively agreeing to engage in sexual activity with someone. It establishes permission for sex. Without consent, any sexual activity is sexual assault.
Before engaging in sexual activities with someone, you need to ask them for their express consent. Consent is easily given and not gotten via manipulation or when one is inebriated.
Consent can also be withdrawn. You are free to change your mind at any anytime. Yes, even while you’re married or have had previous Even if you’ve had relations before, and even if you’re both naked in bed. Your partner must respect your right to request a stop at any moment.
There shouldn’t be any ambiguity or miscommunication when it comes to sexual consent. Anything other than yes is not consent. Consent does not imply silence.
According to Nigeria’s Sexual Offences Act, Section 74, consent involves the person offering agreement by choice while having the freedom and capacity to make that choice.
What is the age of consent in Nigeria?
Now that we know what consent is, what can one be deemed legally fit to grant it in Nigeria?
While the Nigerian constitution does not clearly spell out what the age of consent is, there are certain sections and subsections that peg the age of consent at 18. They are:
- The Child Rights Act
The Child Rights Act guarantees the rights of every Nigerian child and protects them from violence. So far, it has been adopted by 31 states plus the Federal Capital Territory and is awaiting ascension in Zamfara. According to the Child Rights Act, the age of consent at 18 years. Having sexual intercourse with a child is regarded as rape and there are no exemptions. Claiming to be ignorant of the child’s age or them is “consenting” would not hold water, as anyone under the age of 18 cannot give consent, per the Child Rights Act of Nigeria.
Section 31 of the Child Rights Act reads as follows:
Unlawful sexual intercourse with a child.
- No person shall have sexual intercourse with a child
- A person who contravenes the provision of subsection (1) of this section commits an offence of rape and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.
- Where a person is charged with an offence under this section, it is immaterial that –
(a). the offender believed the person to be of or above the age of eighteen years; or
(b). the sexual intercourse was with the consent of the child.
- Sexual Offences Act
Section 7 of the Sexual Offences Act bans sexual intercourse with anyone between the ages of 0 to 18. It punishes offenders with life imprisonment upon conviction. This section, which has been a source of debate due to its ambiguity, states the following:
- 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.
Read also: Why we should teach children about consent
It is important that Nigeria sets a unified age of consent that applies to all parts of the country. The Matrimonial Law, VAPP law and the Criminal Code should all be amended to reflect the age of 18. Failure to do so will make protecting Nigerians – the very thing the Constitution claims to do – hard to enforce.