Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Let the Children BE Children

There was the recent International uproar about the marriage of Senator Ahmed Yerima, to a 13year old Egyptian bride, who is the daughter of the Distinguished Senator’s driver.

The debate dominated Internet Chat-rooms, Radio & Television programmes, living rooms, Beer parlors and every other gathering of Intelligent and gossip-minded folks.

Collective angst at the callousness of such a high-ranking Government official was rife and no-one hesitated in expressing their disgust and disbelief at how such a blatant abuse of a Minor can be celebrated in broad daylight.

Through all this, I remained silent.

Silent because I’ve vowed within myself not to get caught up in all the hogwash we Nigerians love to engage in.

Silent because, correct me if I’m wrong, but what exactly is new about what Senator Yerima has done?

Child Marriages have been a part of most Northern cultures for generations!! We have ALL known about this…abi is it your first time hearing about thirteen year old virgins getting married to older males?

It’s one of those things that are condemnably wrong, but we have all accepted and actually embraced as a part of our collective consciousness. The only reason there was uproar about this particular incident, is because the person in question is a Senator, and an easy victim to make a scapegoat.

Marriage or sexual intercourse with a minor is a clear violation of the provisions of Section 21 of the Child Rights Act, which states:

“No person under the age of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid marriage, and, accordingly, a marriage so contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever.” Section 22(1) states: “No parent, guardian or any other person shall betroth a child to any person. (2) a betrothal in contravention of sub section (1) of this section is null and void.” Section 23 goes on to specify that “a person (a) who marries a child, or (b) to whom a child is betrothed, or (who) promotes the marriage of a child, or (d) who betroths a child, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500, 000; or imprisonment for a term of five years or to both such fine and imprisonment’’.

Is someone going to try to convince me that between now and 2003 when the CRA was established, there have NOT been any Marriages to minors anywhere in Nigeria?!

Why has no-one been prosecuted? Why has there not been a National debate about it since? Why has no-one risen up in the Media to defend the rights of the tons of children whose rights are daily being infringed upon right here in Nigeria? Why do we only acknowledge wrong when it is being committed by someone who has a lot to lose if we judge him?

I first came into contact with the CRA early this year, while doing Research for Content of the ‘Heart of the Matter’, which is a talk-show I produce. We invited a Child Advocacy Group called the African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse & Neglect (ANPPCAN), to the Show, and for the first time, my eyes were opened to the harsh brutalities children are made to suffer in this country.

For the first time, I realized that children actually had clearly laid-out Rights, and my heart ached at the fact that witnessing these Rights being taken away from them had become a normal part of my everyday experience.

Everyday, I watch children on the streets of Lagos, rush to clean my window shield at 11am; a time when they should be in school.

Everyday, I see little girls and boys being made to carry load on their head, earning a living for their families, while their little bodies are burdened by the back-breaking labor.

Everyday, I see children go to school during the day, and hit the streets at night to hustle to make ends meet for their families.

I see little girls transported from remote villages to urban cities to slave away their formative years as house helps to the Rich.

All these, and more of the things we have accepted to be normal, are clearly defined Violations of the Child Rights Act.

Yes, Senator Ahmed Yerima has abused a little girl by marrying her and possibly engaging in sexual intercourse with her.

But so have we.

By ignoring the cry for help from the little ones on our streets, have we not abused them?

By accepting as ‘Normal’ the suffering of innocent children within our environment, have we not teamed up with their Abusers?

By doing nothing, when we see a young child being mistreated, manhandled and forced to become adults in their childhood, have we not become a part of the violation of their Rights?

We certify ANYTHING to be Ok the moment we Accept it.

Please, let’s STOP accepting the brutal rape on the rights of our nation’s children.

Let the Children BE Children.

(All photographs courtesy Oladipo


  1. Inspiring...but note this. No one is picking on the senator because he has a lot to lose. It's more like he is in the position to know better.
    We probably have been silent all this while, but it's a good thing it stirred us up. At least you have start from somewhere. Too bad it had to be him.

  2. Hi Anonymous, I actually disagree with that school of Thought that a certain group of people should be held more responsible for their actions than others. I believe more in Personal Leadership...and everyone taking responsibility for themselves and their environment.

    However, I do see what you mean about the 'Senator Incident' stirring the angst up in everyone...but my question remains 'Why let an evil persist until the perpetrator has a Status Symbol?'

  3. It's true. There are so many incidents of paedophilia hiding under 'culture' and 'religion.' We accept so much evil because we want to allow people to express their cultural and religious beliefs. That's why in the 21st century, women are still suffering genital mutilation and thirteen year olds are getting married. Nigeria.

  4. The way i see it, someone who is in a position of leadership like the senator ought to be an example to others. Even though everyone should take responsibility for themselves and environment like u have said, there will still be those who would choose wrong over right and that's why countries have a leadership framework and law enforcement institutions.
    As a leader, his environment includes his whole jurisdiction which he is responsible for; and those in it. His action was nothing short of an endorsement of such acts when he should be setting a better precedence.
    As for letting an evil persist: Culture changes (even barbaric ones)require gradual re-education and reorientation and in this, the 'follow the leader syndrome is very active' cos people look up to those in such positions, hence the uproar that someone in a leadership position should have known better.
    I don't think it's about Nigerians just wanting to pull someone down cos he has a status.

  5. Leaders are human and can make the same mistake as the people they lead. I however strongly feel that to be lead you have to make extra effort to stay away from pitfalls that every other person struggles with which can bring you done. The Senator is an embodiment of the law and if the law is 'basically going against itself' how can it stand? Tari you did make a very valid point though, we are all responsible for our actions, some of us more than others I would say though.