Nigeria has an approximate population of 212 million people in an area of 923, 768 km.Dyson Tim, Population and Development: The Demographic Transition (2010) Zed Books, Page 22. Most of the population is a young population with 42.54 percent between the ages of 0-14 years. Over half of the population of Nigerians are estimated to be Muslims i.e over 53.3 percent population. The vast majority of Muslims in Nigeria are Sunni belonging to the Maliki school of jurisprudence.

Information About Muslim Family Laws And/or Practices In Nigeria

Main Laws that Govern Muslim Marriages

Nigeria does not have codified laws relating to Muslim marriages. These areas are governed by a combination of Shari’ah principles, penal code, Nigerian customary practices and judicial precedents. The rules of Maliki jurisprudence apply in Muslim personal status matters.E. I. Nwogugu, Family Law in Nigeria, (2014) 3rd Edition, Page 76.

Equal Status in Marriage

The family law does not treat men and women as equal partners in marriage. Section 55(1)(d) of the Shari’ah Penal Code of Northern Nigeria does not criminalize domestic violence, it provides that “Nothing is an offence which does not amount to the infliction of grievous hurt upon any person and which is done by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife.”

Minimum Age of Marriage

There is no minimum age for marriage under Muslim family law.Pascale Fournier et al “Endangering legal Reforms: Islamic Law in Africa and East Asia (2011) Page 112. Surah an-Nisa 4:6 requires that the orphans should be of sound judgment before they marry. This indicates that a person must have sufficient judgment and maturity for marriage.

Positive Feature(s) Under Muslim Family Law

One aspect of family law that is beneficial to Muslim women is the issue of custody of children upon divorce. Women are generally granted priority of their children in a divorce.According to the Maliki school of thought, the mother and then other women relatives on the mother’s side, followed by other women relatives on the father’s side has priority in the right to custody of the child or children. The custody or physical care of the male child remains with the mother until he reaches the age of puberty and a female child remains with the mother until she is married and the marriage is consummated.

Administration Of And Access To Justice On Marriage And Family Matters

Most especially in divorce, women often resort to Khul divorce even where they may have good grounds to seek for a court decided divorce. This could be due to their lack of awareness that in the case of a court decided divorce, they do not have to pay compensation to their husbands or because of the delays in the judicial system or proceedings, in which case, a wife would rather pay her husband than wait.BAOBAB, Divorce: The Dissolution of a Marriage in Muslim Personal Law in Nigeria. Page 5

Constitutional Provisions and National Legislation

Constitutional Provisions

  • Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides for right to freedom from discrimination in law or any executive and administrative actions on several basis including sex.
  • The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) in its section 42 on right to freedom from discrimination does not make exception to Islamic family law.

Other National Laws

  • There is no legislation on domestic violence, under both the Penal code of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja precisely, section 55(1)(c), a husband may beat his wife for the purpose of correcting her, The Shari’ah penal code of the Northern Nigeria in its section 55(1)(d) also made similar provision. In 2007 Lagos State ( being the only state in Nigeria that has this law) ratified and is implementing the Domestic Violence Law, also known as – A Law to provide protection against domestic violence and for connected purposes, 2007. Also the VAPP Act and Childs Right Act being national level laws, require formal adoption by each individual state for them to apply at the state level. These laws are yet to be adopted by the Northern states with predominantly Muslim populations. Application of the legislation to the Muslim population: The above legislative process has their full application on the Muslim population in Nigeria.
  • There are no provisions under the Penal Code against domestic violence, marital rape. Under section 282(2) of the Penal Code of the Federal capital territory Abuja section 357 of the Northern Nigeria Penal Code and the Shari’ah Penal Code, marital rape is not a crime, under the Shari’ah Penal Code, the husband can withdraw maintenance if his wife refuses sexual intercourse.
  • Other laws applicable to marriage and family matters: The Child Rights Act (CRA) and Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP). The Constitution, Shariáh Penal Code and Nigerian Customary Practices and Case Laws etc.  

Regional or International Human Rights Principles

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

  • The Nigerian government ratified CEDAW in 1985 without reservations. The government signed the Optional Protocol to the convention in 2000 and ratified it in 2004. 
  • The last CEDAW review on Nigeria was in July 2017.

Links to CEDAW reports that refer to Muslim family laws and practices 

The government of Nigeria in its 1997, 2003, 2006 and 2016 reports to the CEDAW Committee (Nigeria State party report, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/NGA/7-8 (1997), p. 62; Nigeria State party report, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/NGA/4-5 (2003), para. 16.3; Nigeria State party report, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/NGA/6 (2006), p. 100; Nigeria State party report, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/NGA/7-8 (2016), paras. 14.1-14.2

Any other relevant regional or international treaty or convention signed by Nigeria

Sustainable Development Goals

Nigeria is a signatory to Sustainable Development Goals just like some other countries of the world. SDG is a global process and had progressively integrated into many nations of the world the values capable of speeding up development, inclusive is the gender equality perception.

Relatively, we have as provided thus:

Working group on the issue of discrimination against women and girls –Report presented to the 38th session of the HRC in 2018 taking stock of the first six years of its mandate and examining opportunities to strengthen the international women’s human rights machinery, highlighting the Working Group’s work on SDG 5 in particular and concluding that the 2030 Agenda “should be interpreted through the lenses of human rights obligations” and that the SDGs should be seen as an opportunity to make progress on the elimination of discrimination against women and gender equality, not to dilute States’ human rights obligations” (A/HRC/38/46).

Links to relative reports:

  • UNICEF website on child marriage data:
  • UNICEF 2014 brochure – Ending Child Marriage: Progress and prospects BrochureHR_164.pdf
  • UNICEF website on FGM/C data:
  • UNICEF 2013 report – Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change:


Key Resources About Muslim Family Law

By local researchers, activists and civil society groups 

  • Ayesha Imam. 2004. “Women, Muslim Laws and Human Rights in Nigeria” Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars Africa Program, Occasional Papers No. 2  Accessed March 31, 2022
  • Chineme Okafor, “Failings of Child Rights Law”, March 2017
  • See also Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada: Forced marriage under Islamic law (2006)
  • E.I. Nwogugu, “Family law in Nigeria”, (HEBN Studies in Nigerian Law, Third Edition, 2014), p. 76 30 Pascale Fournier et al, Endangering legal reforms: Islamic law in Africa and East Asia (2011), p. 112
  •  “Worried about prevalence of child marriage in Northern Nigeria, Government moves to stop practice,” Premium Times Nigeria, Nov 29, 2016
  • Constitution of Nigeria, Chapter 3, 29(4)
  • Voices for Change, Analysis of the Structural and Systemic Causes of Gender Inequality in Nigeria (2014), p. 11

National Groups and Campaigns Working on Muslim Family Law

  • National Campaigns

#Childnotbride Campaign against early and forced marriage. This campaign was widely done in the northern states of Nigeria to advocate against the rampant and incessant child marriages in country. It is widely believed, culturally and otherwise, that Aisha( RA) was 6 or 9 years old when she was married to the Prophet (SAW), so this practice of giving young girls away in marriage is becoming a norm. This campaign was highly successful and opened the doors for further discussions in cases of early and forced marriage, maternal mortality and Female Genital Mutilation issues.

  • Key Organisations 
  2.  FIDA 
  3.  Jamatul Nasril Islam. 
  4. Sayidatu Wal Adfal Foundation




This country page was prepared by Mariam Marwa-Abdu, Esq. (Executive Director, Women and Children’s Rights and Empowerment Foundation) as a collaboration under the Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws.