Is child marriage becoming a norm in Nigeria? This is a million Naira question that has become germane owing to recent happenings in the country. Any digital Nigeria who is no longer in the analog world must have known about the news of the two 14-year old girls that were forcefully and deceitfully married against their will and the will of their parents. Nigeria was set agog recently when the news broke out that a girl from Bayelsa State, Ese Rita Oruru, was kidnapped and taken to Kano State and was subsequently married in a Moslem way. It was the media hype that eventually led to her release from her captors.
While Nigerians were yet to recover from the shock of the Ese Oruru story who was found in the family way, having stayed in forced marriage since August 2015, the nation was jolted to learn that the same was happening in faraway Sokoto where another girl of 14, Patience Paul from Benue State was abducted by two men and taken before the palace of the Emir of Sokoto.
The issue of child marriage has been going in Nigeria and may not have been reported. This is because it must have been accepted as a norm owing to the fact that before the introduction of western education, girls were being betrothed immediately they were born. A prospective can consummate a marriage by simply bringing a kola nut in an earthen plate.
Those were the days of yore. But in contemporary time, many critics hold the view that Islamic religion seems to have sanctioned child marriage and in esteem, child defilement. This would not have been made public until 2013 when a confusion was celebrated in the media that a senator in Nigeria, Senator Ahmed Yerima of Zamfara State married an Egyptian girl of 14 and subsequently sacked her and married another Egyptian girl of 13. In spite of the hue and cry that followed the underage marriage, the senator continued to serve in the senate after maintaining that he acted according to the dictate of Islam and would not give heed to the constitutional minimum age of 18.
However the case of Senator Yerima and the Egyptian girls seems to be different from the two cases of marriage after abduction as witnessed in the case of Ese Oruru and Patience Paul. Whereas the parents of the Egyptians gave their consent in the marriage, Ese and Patience parents never gave their consent as they reported the disappearance of their children from their homes.
It is appalling that someone should be forced to go into marriage and worse still, forced to practice a religion against her will. What is glaring in the Ese and Patience case is that some people seem to be out to recruit girls for the Islamic religion because in both cases, the girls were quickly made to wear moslem robes, an indication that they are now Muslims.
One now begins to wonder if Islam is a religion of coercion or a religion of persuasion. This is because the Emirs of Kano and Sokoto respectively are said to be in the know of the Islamising of the girls. If the case of the two girls are not enough to justify that some people are preoccupied with recruiting people for Islam by hook or by crook, the abduction of Chibok Secondary School girls are now clear evidence that Islam is the motive for the early and forced marriage being witnessed in Nigeria today.
Apart from Islam, equity and good conscience should tell those forcing people into religion that they should allow fundamental human right of the citizens. The two emirs mentioned in the two cases are educated men who should know that the constitution is supreme and people should be allowed to tread within the armbit of the law. If child marriage is desirable in anyway, it should be done with full consent and not coercion or intimidation of any kind.
On the part of human right activists, it will be nice if they embark on sensitising parents against giving out their girl child in marriage without reaching maturity which has been put at eighteen for health reasons and economic reasons. This is important because instead of harping on law and punishments preoccuption and persuasion should be to make the society sane. If parents are made to see the importance of bringing up the girl child well so that the girl and the society will be the better for it.
Trying to fight child marriage legally is like fighting abortion, harlotism and other such social crimes. Since the law had been put in place against all these social crimes, it has never checked these crimes rather they are growing in magnitude. A fight worth fighting in all fronts is forced marriage. On no account should anybody marry anybody by force and intimidation.
Nweze writes from Enugu