Hellish lives of baby brides in Lagos communities

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.”

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.

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