Last Friday, news broke that a 14 (going on 15) year old girl in Katsina State had been married to the Emir, and when her parents protested that she was not only a child, but abducted against her will, the Emirate responded with a sentence that left people feeling indescribable things: “The marriage is ‘irreversible’.” Let us at this point note that in an ironic twist only Nigeria can pull off, this blatant kidnapping of an underage girl into marrying a relic of a man is coming right on the heels of the International Day of The Girl Child. As Nigeria doesn’t do ironies in half measures, it turns out that the global focus of this year’s IDGC is- you guessed it- ending child marriage.
Let us also note that in other countries where basic humanity is not a loose suggestion, child marriage is not only banned, but carries serious repercussions. There is no need to go over Nigeria’s disappointing history with child marriage. When even the rulers of the land have the depraved taste for children, how can we possibly expect any serious reversal of this abject breach of human rights? This is a country where nothing is sacred, and therefore all is consumed, which is why a girl can be abducted from her home and whisked to the other end of the country to be converted to another religion, wedded, bedded and impregnated against her will. All the international exposure outrage of Nigerian millennials online cannot transform the fact that occurrences like this are par for the course in this country.
But, back to the Katsina Emirate statement on the ‘irreversibility’ of the marriage. As the tale is told, the Emirate maintains that the marriage and religious conversion were done with the girl’s full consent, and I have to wonder if the term ‘statutory rape’ is totally alien in this neck of the woods. In an irony of Nigerian proportions, a 14-year-old girl, who is considered too young to decide if she wants to drink or smoke a cigarette is old enough to agree to drastically change the course of her life altogether by marrying a man who probably nurtured his first grandchild before she was born. A 14-year-old girl cannot ‘willingly’ drive a car into the sunset (and far, far away from all the oppression awaiting her in this excuse for a nation), but she can ‘willingly’ decide join the harem (and kitchen) of a perverted old windbag.
This double standard is a proud monument to an advanced, bearded and walking-stick-carrying patriarchy, where a young girl is not considered a human being with pride, dignity and individuality, but is a commodity that can be annexed by the male figures of authority in her society to use and abuse as they please. You don’t have to look too hard to find the roots of this mess in the rape culture institutionalized in our society. Men in this country feel so entitled to the bodies (and lives) of young girls and women. Men grope women and girls on the street, in classrooms, in places of worship. They never fail to remind you that if you ‘do anyhow’, if you as much as stray from the matchbox of wiggle room you’re allowed, they will withhold from you the ultimate prize- marriage. Imagine a society where marriage to a man who statistically has a major chance of being a sexist buffoon is the ultimate crowning glory of a woman. Good luck with those depressing odds. The casual and even encouraged culture of harassment, assault and abuse ensures that girls are seen as a soft target for the entire gamut of molestation, less than a human being with choices. Let me state here that there is a time and place for deviating arguments of “Not all men, etc”, and this is not it. Today, listen and learn.
The girl child in Africa, and in Nigeria has a particularly pathetic lot in life. I’m not talking here about the privileged ones with opportunities like me (and probably, you), even though we have our own elevated demons to combat. One in three girls in the developing world gets married before the age of 18. Ergo, an alarming percentage of young girls do not have access to education. Education, the bedrock of any life worth living in our world today, is but a wistful dream for this one girl in three, especially in rural regions. Even when she manages to go to school, she is yanked out at a very young age- as young as 9, 10, to marry an old pervert. She has any chance of a healthy, fulfilled life forcefully truncated in such a horrifying manner. Her unprepared body is violated by a morally bankrupt excuse for a man, who needs to rape a child to affirm his virility to goodness-knows-who. She is ripped apart physically, emotionally and psychology, going through non-consensual sex and childbirth, things her infantile body is in no way prepared for. A child giving birth to another child sounds like the plot of an especially repulsive horror flick, but it’s the stark reality for one in three girls in developing countries. She ends up irreversibly disfigured in various ways- genital mutilation, VVF, infections, diseases. She is victimized, hurt, degraded and even beaten if she as much as tries to assert her humanity. Psychologically, she is lobotomized into believing that she has no other worth except being a broodmare for her husband. She is a human being with full intellect, who should have had the same forty acres and a mule like every other man or woman, the same fair chance to be whatever she so desires in life. She could have been a solid contribution to our workforce, spending her best years dedicating her skill-set to strengthening our economy, not cuddling her grandchildren at the grand old age of 30. Above all, she is a human being with autonomy, who can decide to be president or a kept wife, as long as SHE’s the one doing the deciding.
The saying goes that when you train a girl, you train a nation. Cheesy, but very true. Girls are historically under-utilized in our society, and in this era of head-twirling development, it is imperative now more than ever that female children be accorded the same significance and treatment as male children- nobody is about to marry out a 14-year-old boy to a 60-year-old woman. This dichotomy needs to end. Girls have equal ideas, experience and intellect to bring to the world stage. We MUST do better by our girls, be they in our household or far across the country. We must demand a total eradication of this nauseating practice of kidnapping and raping girls in the name of child marriage in this country of ours by men who should be protecting their rights and contributing to their growth.
We are only as strong as our weakest link. Stand up for the girl child today.