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Child Marriage - Nigeria's Other Scourge

7/2/2014, 11:13 a.m.
Maimuna Abdullahi

Jun. 30 (GIN) – Nearly 300 school-age girls are still in the hands of Boko Haram, a Nigerian terrorist group, but they’re not the only group of young women yanked from school against their will and made to work at the beck and call of husbands they did not choose. A new exposé rips Nigeria for its record number of child brides – some as young as 9.

According to the U.N. Population Fund, Nigeria has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.

Even a federal senator has openly wed five child brides, including a 14-year-old Egyptian when he was 49. When she reached 17 with a child he divorced her to marry a new wife said to be just 15.

The custom of child marriage continues to be the informal law of the land despite a “Child Rights Act” passed in 2003, which raised the minimum age of consent, and thus of marriage, to 18 for girls.

The lower the age of marriage, a study of Demographic and Health data found, the greater the risk of domestic violence. One such case was spotlighted in a recent news story that was carried widely. Maimuna Abdullahi of Kano, northern Nigeria, married off at 14, had objected to having to drop out of school for a long day of chores for her husband, 28, and his family. Their response was to beat her so severely that her jaw was almost broken and her back was covered with welts.

A year later, she was divorced by her husband but was saved from homelessness and sex trafficking by the privately-funded Tattalli Free School for divorced girls. The director, Saadatu Aliyu, commented: “Nobody knows how many thousands of them there are… That’s why we have so many prostitutes, and very young ones, in the north.”

Last year, the Nigerian Senate voted to consider underage married girls as “adults” but to their surprise, prominent Nigerians and human right organizations took to the social media to protest what they described as legalization of sexual abuse of barely pubescent girls.

Protests were held in parts of the country and petitions were signed to protest the law. On Twitter, several petition handles were created such as #childnotbride and #MaryamUwais – a self-described “troublemaker” and legal advocate for women’s rights.

Former Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, wrote: "I got married at 24, after my first post-graduate. Some think 24 is early but then, I was ready to make sound decisions."

Nollywood actor, Nonso Diobi, said: "If she can't vote, then she can't marry. A female child should be taken to the classroom, not labor room." Broadcaster Mo Abudu, shared her concerns, saying, "My heart is broken by the news from the Senate on #ChildBrides. This is not the Africa of 2013."

Star reggae artiste, Majek Fashek, chimed in: "How can a man of 40, 50 or over marry a girl of 12, 13yrs? What kind of pedophilia is this?"

Meanwhile, Maimuna’s former husband, is looking for a 12 year old girl who, he says, will be more compliant. He blames Maimuna’s few years of school for her disobedience.

“She had too much ABCD,” he says. “Too much ABCD.”