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 Oladapo...www.phunshots.com)
7 years ago