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CHILD BRIDE: IT’S LONG TERM AFTERMATH

By: Innocent Doris U.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same”.     – Nelson Mandela

Agnes sat down on the platform at the back of her house staring into space, her mind whirring like an electronic fan at its highest pace. As a young woman at 28 who has 6 children for a man who kidnapped her as a child and was forced by her uncles to remain with him, tradition they called it. She was only 14 and newly orphaned. Her life from then on turned inside out and all she had become accustomed to was a dark tunnel, at no time did she see the light as there was no one to show her the way. For the past 14 years of her life, she has endured a place worse than hell, because of her helplessness first as a child and subsequently as a mother who feared to lose her children. Her 4 beautiful girls and 2 little boys who were still running about in their knickers in their childish innocence, oblivious to the reality around them except for when their mother becomes a punching bag, which happens very often.

She smiled on the platform, so much sadness, anguish and pain in her eyes as she relived the past 14 years of her life. Life has been so cruel to her, as she endures constant pain, abuse, rape, neglect and even torture. She definitely didn’t suffer alone, any child who dared come between her and the man who calls himself her husband when he is beating her, would be beaten as well.

Samson really personified his name on her body, he was tall, dark and handsome, such an irony to his personae. It would be too kind to call him a beast, because even beasts have time for rest. He always found an excuse to hit her, rape her or even torture her, sometimes in the presence of their children. He also didn’t relent in saying terrible things to their children about her. This was the system that enabled her conceive 10 times; of those 10 pregnancies she lost 2, had 2 still births and nurtured 6 children who she is grateful, are alive and healthy.

As she continued her reminiscing, she remembered the many times she had woken up to realize that she had fainted from domestic violence. She took a look at her young battered body, the scars on her body and the gaping wound in her heart.

Samson had threatened to separate her from the kids forever if she ever dared to leave him. This threat was etched in her heart and so with every child she bore, her fear grew and so did her anger.

The most troubling part of her situation that has kept her in this quagmire presently is the plan to marry off her first daughter Ruth who is only thirteen, to a rich man who had promised to give them a new house, buy them three cars and send their two boys to school. Samson had eagerly agreed without her consent, she was deeply troubled; she was only a year older when she was kidnapped. She couldn’t stand and let the same evil that befell her and caused her, her entire life befall her precious baby.

By this time her tears had become groans and her tears like a torrential rain fall luckily, Samson is not home. As Agnes fights in her heart frantically for a solution, her mind wanders to what she could have become if only one adult had fought for her fourteen years ago, she could have been an enlightened graduate and would have every form of security any woman could dream of, be it mental, economic or even marital.

These and many more she wanted desperately for her children. She would fight tooth and nail and sacrifice anything to ensure that all her children would get the things she could only dream of. She is still thinking of a way out of this dilemma.

This is currently the plight of hundreds of young women somewhere in Northern Nigeria today. They transit from girlhood into womanhood in a nightmare they have no choice but to call home. The many unheard voices filled with anguish and pain still abound. Their Sexual, Reproductive and Health Rights are still violated thoughtlessly. Some of these young women and girls lose their lives during child birth or from domestic violence. Others contract Vesico-Vaginal Fistula (VVF) and are left to suffer until they are either helped or they eventually die. Some others who are bold enough to escape may never see their babies again. Others just endure the precarious situation due to fear and pressure from family and friends. These are the ones who cannot even cry silently, because of the burden in their hearts. I can hear the cries of this young girls; “Save us, the ones we were entrusted with, have failed to protect us. Rather, they have let us out to the wolves to devour. But, I am only a child.”

We see how Child Bride practices foster and sponsor Gender Based Violence and other Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) violations. This is the reason why this menace must be strongly hunted down and stopped. We must lend our voices to victims of Child Bride and reinvigorate their broken spirits and bodies. They have the right to dream as much as the rest of us do. We must also do our best to ensure that Parents and members of the society recognize child bride for what it is so that together we can discourage it, stop it and have a better Nigeria. A Child Bride Free Nigeria is a great Nigeria.

 

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Nigeria: Child brides facing death sentences a decade after child marriage prohibited

Culled from the Guardian

Ten years after underage marriage was prohibited, 39% of girls are married before age 15, and two remain on death row for killing much older husbands

Maimuna Abdulmunini was just 13 when she was arrested for burning her 35-year-old husband to death.

The legal process dragged out over five years. Finally in 2012, when she turned 18, Abdulmunini was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Today, despite a court ruling six months ago that the sentence is a violation of her rights, she is still on death row, waiting.

Wasila Tasi’u is 14 but has been in a prison in Gezawa, outside the city of Kano, for the last five months. She too faces the death penalty for allegedly murdering her 35-year-old husband, Umar Sani, and three others at her own wedding party.

Soon after she was arrested, Tasi’u told her lawyer Hussaina Ibrahim that she had been tied to the bed and raped by Sani on their wedding night. When she appeared in Gezawa high court for the first time back in the autumn, she could barely say her own name, turning her back to the court when the charges were read, breaking down in tears.

A strike by judicial staff, coupled with the customary delays in the Nigerian legal system, has meant that she has been incarcerated since October, with limited access to her mother and father. Tasi’u is struggling to cope with her current situation, according to Ibrahim. Once described as a “jovial” and “intelligent” teenager, Tasi’u is now withdrawn and scared.

The Nigerian government made child marriage illegal in 2003, but according to campaigners from Girls Not Brides, 17% of girls in the country are still married before the age of 15. In the Muslim-dominated northwest, 48% of girls are married by the age of 15 and 78% are married by the time they hit 18. In Kibbe state, the average age of marriage for girls is just 11.

The Child Rights Act, which raises the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18, was introduced in 2003. But the legislation, which was created at a federal level, is only effective if it is passed by state governments. To date, only 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states have passed the act. The legislation is yet to be passed in either Abdulmunini or Tasiu’s home states.

Within Nigerian politics the issue has proved controversial, not least because politicians have a habit of marrying teenagers. Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima, representative for Zamfara West in northern Nigeria, made headlines back in 2010 when he married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl. Three years later he persuaded his fellow Senators to defeat a motion that would have removed a constitutional loophole that means girls under the age of 18 are considered adults as soon as they get married.

Now, with less than three weeks to go before the country goes to polls in the presidential election, the issue has taken on a political edge. Ibrahim says the government doesn’t care about the girls forced into marriage, claiming that politicians could have Tasi’u released if they really wanted to.

A senior lawyer at the International Federation of Women Lawyers in Kano, Ibrahim is currently dealing with 54 cases related to child marriage, including a 12-year-old charged with attempted murder and an 11-year-old who attempted suicide and ran away from home a week before she was due to marry a 45-year-old.

Ibrahim starts her working day at three in the morning, before prayers and taking her children to school. As a woman in a high-powered job, she faces regular harassment from opponents, as well as the general sexism that punctuates her dealings with state officials and members of the police force.

“I am frustrated. There is a real problem with access to education in this region. The government could take steps to address this, but it is yet to do so. Better access to education could have a real impact on child marriage. It’s easy to get the sense that those in charge in the south don’t care about the people of the north. The election has been so focused on terrorism and Boko Haram that other issues are being lost,” she says.

Maryam Uwais, a lawyer based in northern Nigeria, who “grew up watching girls being married off all around” her, suggests that politicians in the north of the country are reluctant to come out against child marriage for fear of losing popular support. “Many of our northern politicians seem to think that taking a stand against pegging the minimum age for marriage would be synonymous with taking a stand against the Muslim faith. The religion has been misinterpreted to convey that child marriage is encouraged in Islam, whereas contextual interpretations would suggest the opposite,” she says.

“Child marriage is prevalent in many of the communities where poverty is endemic. Parents (and fathers especially) actually benefit from the dowry and extras that their daughter’s suitor contributes to the family of the girl child.”

The lawyers representing Maimuna Abdulmunini are equally frustrated with the Nigerian political system. Angela Uwandu works with Avocats Sans Frontières in Abuja. Together with Jean-Sebastian Mariez, who works for the organisation from Paris, she took Abdulmunini’s case to the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) Court of Justice.

In June 2014, after granting her an injunction to prevent her being executed four months earlier, the court said the decision to sentence Abdulmunini to death for a crime committed when she was a minor was a violation of her rights. In its judgement, the court also noted a number of flaws in the original trial. The issue of her age had been ignored by both sides, while lawyers for the prosecution argued that Abdulmunini’s desire to keep her newborn baby with her while she was incarcerated was just a cynical attempt to gain sympathy.

Lacking the authority to order her release, the Ecowas court can only urge the Nigerian government to follow its judgement. ASF’s lawyers have been lobbying to ensure this happens but so far their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

A separate criminal appeal has been filed by Abdulmunini’s lawyer at the national level challenging the death sentence conviction by the High Court.

Abdulmunini, who Uwandu described as being “overjoyed” when she heard the regional court had decided to strike down her sentence back in June, is now dejected.

She is currently separated from her three-year-old daughter – the result of a relationship she had while out on bail – and is living in an overcrowded cell with six other inmates.

Françoise Kpeglo Moudouthe, head of Africa engagement at Girls Not Brides, is calling on the Nigerian government to do more to tackle child marriage. “If nothing is done, it’s clear that Nigeria – and other countries where child marriage is prevalent – will continue to fall short in its efforts to improve the education, health and wellbeing of millions of its citizens. “It’s important to remember that many parents marry off their daughter as a child because they believe it is the best and safest option for her future. The government of Nigeria must do more to empower girls and ensure their access to safe secondary schools, and other services, if parents are to see that they and their daughters have other options to child marriage.”

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2015 in Women Rights and Gender

 

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