The phenomenon of child marriage is gaining ascendancy in Nigeria. More troubling is the fact that many of these child brides are abducted and forced into marriage. Kidnapping and indeed child abduction is not new in Nigeria. It has a long history. Many of the victims were kidnapped for ransom, trafficked to be used as sex slaves or house helps, forced into marriage or used for money ritual and other diabolical purposes.
This newspaper featured on its front page last Sunday, March 13 the story of Ifesinachi Ani, a 15 year old SS2 student of Government Secondary School, Apo Resettlement who was abducted in Abuja and taken to Zaria, where she was reportedly converted to Islam and married off. The linkman to the abductors, Baba Abdul, who has been arrested by the police, claimed that he sold the girl to scouts allegedly sent by a prominent northern Emir. The AUTHORITY on Sunday had reported the sinister activities of a band of syndicate abductors whose primary objective is to lure Christian teenagers and minors from the southern parts of the country and force them to embrace Islam and marry them off. The act is allegedly carried out through all forms of subterfuge, including deceit, hypnotism and fetish methods.
Recently we have heard of the case of Ese Oruru who was abducted from Bayelsa to Kano before she was rescued after media pressure championed by The PUNCH was mounted on his abductor. Unfortunately, she’s said to have been impregnated before help could come her way. . Saturday Sun of March 5, 2016 similarly featured the story of Ifeoma Nichodemus, now Aisha, who was abducted in Zaria since May 2014. Also, The PUNCH of Wednesday, March 16 informed the public about the release of three teenage girls who were abducted in Bauchi. SUNDAY PUNCH of March 6, 2016, had reported that Blessing Gopep, 13, was abducted by two men identified as Iliya and Umaru, both living in Alkaleri, Bauchi State. On November 19, 2015 Linda Christopher was abducted by one Mallam Shagari in Tarsha Durumi village, while Progress Jacob, 13, was abducted by Mallam Musa in the Yelwa, Sabon Kaura area, both in Bauchi State, on her way back from church on January 3, 2016. Mercifully, due to public outcry, these teenagers were released by their abductors and had been reunited with their families. The over 200 Chibok school girls who were abducted since April 14, 2014 and similarly forcefully converted to Islam have not been found till date despite international pressure on Nigerian government.
The above are just a tip of the iceberg. So many of these abductions are yet to come to national limelight. I salute the courage of the media houses and non-governmental organisations who have been championing the release of these victims. Truth be told, there is no law in Nigeria that forbids inter-tribal, inter-ethnic, and inter-faith marriages. What the law forbids is child marriage and forceful conversion to another religion. Nigeria, it needs be emphasised, is a secular state. One of my sisters is legally married to a Muslim who is taking good care of her and never forced her into Islam. He takes them to church and brings them back when services close. An uncle of mine who was a Muslim is also married to a staunch Catholic lady from the South East and lived happily together for decades before he passed on few years ago. He never forced his wife to convert to Islam. Even two former governors of Lagos State, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN are both married to Christian wives though they are Muslims. Same with the incumbent Oyo State governor, Senator Isiak Abiola Ajimobi. They never converted their wives to Islam. That is the way it should be.
What are the likely implications and consequences of these shameful acts of child abduction and forceful conversion to another religion? Both are criminal offences under the Nigeria legal system. The Nigerian Constitution duly recognises the country as a multi-religious society with no state religion. The Child Rights Act of 2003 sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years. Thus anyone who marries below that age is involved in child marriage. Furthermore, abduction or kidnapping is a criminal offence under our penal code.
Now, child abduction, forceful conversion to another religion and marriage below the legally permissible age has a number of implications. More often than not, it truncates the academic pursuits of these child brides as they usually drop out of school and because their abductors also put them in the family way they often never have the opportunity of going back to school.
Health wise, because these child brides soon transformed to baby mothers and are immature to carry pregnancies at such tender age, they are often susceptible to Vesico Vaginal Fistula. VVF is an abnormal fistulous tract extending between the bladder (or vesico) and the vagina that allows the continuous involuntary discharge of urine into the vaginal vault. It makes the victims stink. Baby mothers, more often than not, are delivered of their children through caesarean section popularly known as CS in medical parlance. Even when they allegedly have ‘normal delivery’ they often have tear during childbirth. Because of the horrific experience of forceful abduction, conversion and marriage, these child brides are traumatised and socially maladjusted. They are likely to have inferiority complex and low self-esteem.
The solution to this menace lies with all and sundry. Parents need to take good care of their children, gain their confidence and make them trust them. They need to train their children to be contented and on the right moral and religious values. When their daughters are abducted or defiled, they should not keep quiet and just pray about it. They should seek help from the security agencies, the NGOs and the media. Government, civil society and media should embark on civic education on the issue of child bride, forceful conversion to other religion as well as child marriage. Government should ensure that security agencies are well resourced to protect the Nigerian society and prosecute those found to have been involved in these illicit acts.
•Ojo is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja and the material is republished in the public interest.