Hellish lives of baby brides in Lagos communities

  • Minor housewife commits suicide after quarrel with husband
  • Another develops mental problem after wedding
  • Touts unleash terror on anti girl-child marriage campaigner
  • Early marriage disheartening, says Lagos State Government

In spite of the prevailing Child Rights Law, many innocent underage girls in Lagos State are having their lives ruined by the unwholesome practice of being forced by their parents into marriage with men who in some cases are old enough to be their grandfather. INNOCENT DURU reports that desperate parents involved in the practice often have to end the education of the affected girls to fulfill an ugly desire that has left the lives of many of the hapless girls in ruins.

THE budding life of an underage housewife in Idi Araba area of Mushin Local Government Area, Lagos State was recently cut short after she was forcibly married off to a man her father’s age. Against her own wish, her parents were said to have terminated her education abruptly to pave way for her marriage.

Shortly after the marriage, however, disagreements began to occur between her and her husband. She complained to her parents about the development but they told her there was nothing abnormal or unusual about misunderstandings between a man and his wife.

Over time, the minor disagreements snowballed into serious feuds which apparently were too much for a girl of her age to handle.

“One fateful day late last year (2019), she committed suicide after a quarrel with her husband. We all need to address this issue of early marriage,” said Fatimo Mohammed, one of the women at the forefront of the campaign against girl-child marriage in the area.

The deceased girl’s story was all the more shocking because it occurred in Lagos, a state thought by many to be too modern to harbour the obnoxious practice, particularly with the existence of the Child Rights Law.

Section 20 and 21 (subsection 1 and 2) of the law states: “As from the commencement of this Law, every action concerning a child, undertaken by any Individual, Public or Private Body, Institution, Court of Law, Administrative or Legislative Authority, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.

2.—(1) A child shall be given protection and care as necessary for the well-being of the child, taking into consideration the rights and duties of the child’s parents, legal guardians, individuals, institutions, services, agencies, organisations or bodies legally responsible for the child.

(2) Every person, institution, service, agency, organisation and body responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards laid down by the appropriate authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, welfare, and suitability of their staff and competent supervision.

In spite of the hard stance of the law on child abuse, the condemnable practice is one that has continued to grow in the state, causing untold setback to the lives of many young girls.

Findings made by our reporter showed that Agege and Idi Araba parts of the state are particularly notorious for the practice that remains a source of concern for the communities’ leaders whose efforts at stopping it have often met with stiff opposition from its proponents.

The Private Secretary to the Sarkin Hausawa of Agege, Comrade Abdullahi Salihu, shared the heartrending story of how another young girl, who was a prefect in her school, became a psychiatric patient shortly after she was withdrawn from school and forcibly married off.

Salihu said: “There was a girl who was a prefect in her school. She was very brilliant. But along the line, she had her education terminated and was married off.

“As soon as she got married, she developed a mental challenge.  In that pathetic condition, she gave birth to five children.

“Along the line, her mates started looking for her. When they found her, they took care of her and helped her get treatment.

“To her husband’s surprise, she could recognize all of them when they got to her house. That tells you that her problem actually started when her academic life was affected.

“The psychiatric doctor that treated her warned that she must get out of the marriage if she wanted to keep her sanity.”

Checks in Idi Araba further revealed how another young girl became a patient of Vesico Virginal Fistula (VVF).

Narrating the girl’s ordeal, the Chairman of the Idi Araba branch of Arewa Consultative Forum, Abdul Basit Sanusi, described girl-child marriage in the area as a Hydra-headed monster.

He said: “In 2017, an underage married girl in the community gave birth through operation. Unfortunately, her private part was affected. She suffered from Vesico Vigirna Fistula and could not control urine. They said some of her bones were not strong enough for delivery.

“The doctor had warned her against getting pregnant until she was older. She fell ill for a long time and was taken back home for traditional treatment.”

For men who take pleasure in the practice, Basit warned that they risk developing heart attack dealing with girls they are old enough to father.

Buttressing this with a true life story he witnessed, he said: “There was a man here in Idi Araba who is 67 but married to a 14 years old girl. He actually brought the girl from the north. The innocent girl made life unbearable for the man, he suffered a heart attack and was hospitalised.

“The girl was always going out to play with her peers, not remembering that she was married. At times, her peers would beat her in the course of playing, not taking into consideration the fact that she was married.

“At a point, the man said he would not be able to put up with the little girl again. He ended up returning to the older wife of about 35 years and caged the girl in the house for a year. He didn’t allow her to go out of their flat.”

Basit believes that the advocates of the despicable practice are brutal and ever ready to crush every opposition to it.

He went on to narrate how he and his colleagues were attacked for speaking against the practice.

He said: “The menace of child marriage in Idi Araba is a very serious one. There was a time I organised a sensitization programme on it.

“Before I knew it, they sent touts to come and attack me.  They tore my clothes and rough handled me, demanding to know why I dared speak against the issue when I knew that our tradition supports it.

“They argued that any girl that is 14 years and above is old enough to marry and can do whatever she wants to do. They warned me to stop the nonsense I was doing.

“When the girls have given birth to two or more children, some of the men would leave them to marry another one. I know of someone who married two girls within a year.”

Ruined by early  marriage

Young girls share experiences

In one of our correspondent’s visits to Idi Araba, during one of the series of awareness campaigns organised by the Centre for Women’s Health and Information (CEWHIN),  a non-governmental organistion, one of the girls,  Sekina, spoke of how her father wanted her to drop out of school and marry.

She said: “I was almost a victim because my father wanted to stop my education and marry me off. He did not want me to further my studies because he thought that getting married early was the best.

“He has since changed his mind after counseling by CEWHIN members.”

Asked what she had learnt from participating in CEWHIN’s programmes, Sekina said: “I have been talking to many girls in my community to shun early marriage. Some of them are welcoming it but some aren’t. It is a traditional and religious belief and has nothing to do with the man baiting the girl with money or gift.

“The practice was very rampant before, but it has reduced now. Most of the girls now want to go to school.

“There is a girl I am trying to counsel right now. She got married when she was 15 and gave birth last year, at the age of 16. Unfortunately for her, the husband divorced her this year.

“She is trying to get into another marriage, so I am trying to educate her on the need to go back to school. She does not have anything doing for a living.

“When some of the men get married to the young girls, they often take them back to the north.”

Her colleague, Aliya, describing girl-child marriage as evil, said:  “I have seen some of my mates getting married. In my area at Idi Araba, I know of three girls who got married before they completed primary school. I feel bad seeing that because they have no education.

“Some of them were stopped from going to school at primary two, three or four and were married off.”

‘Why our people marry off the girl-child’

Concerned members of the two Lagos communities have identified the basic reasons why the practice of marrying off the girl-child has persisted.

Explaining why the practice has lingered in Idi Araba, Fatima Mohammed, one of the women leaders in the area, said: “It is a big problem that needs to be addressed from the grassroots. We need to look at the causes: what are the reasons people give out their children in marriage at the age of 11, 12 and above.

“The moment we identify the causes, we can find the solution to it.  We can never move forward if we don’t know the causes.

“One of the causes is poverty. The second one is that we have no public school close to where our people live. Because of this, many of the girls cannot go to school.

“Many of the parents cannot eat, let alone sending their daughters to private schools.

“In our area we have only one secondary school and that is the only school our girls are being admitted.

“They always ask them to cut their hair, but this is against our religious belief.

“If you give these girls good education, even if you want to give their hands out in marriage, they would have had an idea of how to make a home.”

She also advocated empowerment programmes to keep the girls engaged.

She said: “We need to empower even those that are going to school. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. We have so many of them who don’t have any work to do.

“We have been agitating for their empowerment. They need to be put in a place where they can utilise their energy. When they sit in one place doing nothing, it can be counter- productive.

“We used to gather parents to enlighten them on this issue. We have an Islamic school where we do this. We use our local preachers to speak to them that the practice is not even Islamic.

“We are happy that the efforts are yielding good results. More girls are going to school now than before. More girls are being empowered and engaged in one thing or the other.  We even have adult classes now.”

Reacting to the allegation that the men often abandon the girls to marry new ones, Fatimo said: “Men generally are like that. When a woman starts her life with them, the moment she is getting old, they will begin to change to marry another person.

“If a woman is empowered, she would not care whether the man is marrying another woman or not.”

Determined to stop the practice in Idi Araba, the Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum, Abdul Basit Sanusi, said: “We have been holding meetings with leaders of the Hausa community in Idi Araba on the issue of early marriage.

“There was a 16-year-old girl who was supposed to be married last week but we fought seriously against it and stopped the wedding.

“We warned the chief imam who wanted to conduct the wedding and threatened to arrest him if he went on with it. We told him the girl should be allowed to attain the age of 18 or 20 before she would be given out in marriage.” Private Secretary to the Sarkin Hausawa of Agege, Comrade Abdullahi Salihu, said child marriage in Agege is an issue they have been battling with.

He said: It’s really an issue that requires all hands to be on deck. By that I mean the government, the community, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders.

“It is an issue that touches the heart. Many of the parents giving out their children in marriage also have dreams for their female children.

“Right from their nursery and primary school, they have a song in which they state what they want to become in life. From that age, they dream of what they want to become in future.

“But along the line, the dream is shattered because most parents cannot afford to pay the children’s school fees. The only option left is to marry them off so that they won’t become promiscuous.”

The Lagos State Government, he noted, has done very well by bringing out a law that kicks against the practice. “But they need to make sure the implementation and awareness get to the grassroots so that everybody in the community will be aware of it.

“There is Ministry of Women Affairs and others like that in the state. They should spread it to deter people from engaging in it.

“The community should also be involved by sharing experiences. They can get a community member to come out and say, ‘I, Alhaji XYZ, I got any girl married at 15. During labour, she had challenges and lost her life.’

“That is why maternal mortality is on the rise. That is why we need to put heads together to end this menace. The practice is evil.”

Asked what the community does when such illegal solemnisations are taking place, he said: “Girls of 14 and 15 years get married and you as a neighbour cannot do anything because the father will tell you, ‘She is my daughter. Are you going to control me or tell me what is good for my daughter?’

“That is why stakeholders need to come together and kick out this evil.”

Admitting that the consequences of girl-child marriage are numerous and grave, he said:  “Many of the marriages don’t last. Besides they have attendant health challenges, including VVF.

“The girls are naïve. They don’t know their right from left. All they know is that they are hungry and they ask for food; they feel pressed and use the loo. That is all. They are not mentally set for marriage.”

Practice disheartening, says Lagos State Government   

The Lagos State Government described the practice as disheartening. Speaking to The Nation on the side of a stakeholders’ meeting organised by CEWHIN, the Commissioner of Youths and Social Development, said the ministry promptly responds whenever they get a report that a girl-child is being withdrawn from school to be forcibly married off.

Her representative, Mrs Peter Popoola, said: “We do not support child marriage. When we get any report on child marriage, we quickly go there to rescue the child. We want their maximum potential.

“When I was in school, social work in district 6, a case was reported of a girl the parents wanted to withdraw from school and marry off. The mother said she also got married at the age of 15, hence there was nothing wrong if they should marry her out at that age.

“We rescued the child and put her in one of our homes. We invited the parents and invited the community leader and sorted it out. That was how the act stopped. The girl is now in the university.”

Asked if the state had been prosecuting offenders, she said: “Prosecuting the parents is not the issue. The issue is do they really understand that child marriage is wrong? We try to educate them.

“Those who agreed to release their children to us now have their daughters in the university with our assistance. So, why prosecuting? It is not that the girl had been married off.

“This is why we send our social workers to schools to educate the children. We tell them to inform us if their parents want to marry them off so that we can rescue them.

“We work with the ministries of justice, health, community affairs and several stakeholders who see to the protection of children, including federal government agencies.”

Checks revealed that the state government had in 2018 announced that it was set to review the Child Right Law.

The then Permanent Secretary and Solicitor-General Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Funlola Odunlami, had noted that some punishments as stipulated in the law had not served the intended purpose of deterring abusers of children from such acts, hence the need to review the Child Rights Law.

She listed the sections of the law being considered for review to include Section 3, 7, 13, 17, 19, 20-23. The Sections, according to her, range from parental neglect to sentencing terms, forms of punishment for offenders as well as the inclusion of persons responsible for facilitating forcible marriage of a girl, among others under the Child Rights Law.

CEWHIN, in a chat with The Nation, called  on all strategic  stakeholders, the Lagos State government inclusive to join forces to tackle the issue of child marriage in the parts of the state identified in Northern settler communities.

Campign against early Child Marriage
•Residents of Idi Araba protesting against child marriage
after a sensitisation programme organised by CEWHIN

The Programme  Officer, Tolulope Aderibigbe, said the campaign against child marriage (an Initiative supported by the RiseUp based in the Public Health Institute USA) has continued to expose members of the Agege and Idi-Araba  communities to the gains of educating the girl child, the health implications of child marriage among others.

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