• Sunday, June 16, 2024
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How 100 female orphans face forced marriage in Niger

Chibok girls: 10 years after, 5 pressing issues

Not less than 100 girls have been scheduled for an arranged wedding in Niger State this month even as the said event has come under fire.

A lawmaker in central Niger had planned to marry off some 100 female orphans whose relatives were killed during attacks by armed bandits later this month.

Abdulmalik Sarkin-Daji, speaker of the Niger State Assembly had pledged to support and fund the mass wedding but dissociated himself from the ceremony following public condemnation.

Sarkin-Daji called off the proposed wedding after Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, minister of women affairs, threatened to sue him.

The minister, while speaking to the press in Abuja on Tuesday, condemned the act, arguing that the young girls should be in school learning or acquiring vocational skills.

Kennedy-Ohanenye added that she had petitioned the police and filed a lawsuit to stop the marriages pending an investigation to ascertain the age of the orphans and whether they consented to the marriages.

“This is totally unacceptable by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and by the government of Nigeria”, she said.

Meanwhile, the lawmaker had said the wedding support was a way to assist members of his constituents following an appeal for funding by local traditional and religious leaders.

“That support I intend to give for the marriage of those orphans, I’m withdrawing it,” he said.

“The parents can have the support [money], if they wish, let them go ahead and marry them off. As it is right now, I’m not threatened by the action of the minister,” the speaker added.

Despite widespread outrage and criticism of the said marriage, Jonathan Vatsa, a former commissioner for information and culture in Niger state, said the proposed wedding of the 100 girls in the state will be held.

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, Vatsa, a chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC), stated that the Women Affairs minister ought to visit Niger before commenting on “issues that she knows nothing about”.

“No amount of threat of court action can stop these parents from giving out their daughters in marriage after receiving the necessary support,” Vatsa said.

The former commissioner said banditry activities across 12 LGAs of the state have produced over 5,000 orphans, widows, and widowers, some of whom are ready to remarry or be married off.

He urged the minister to visit the State to understand the plight of the female, majority of whom are girls suffering from the scourge of banditry.

Vasta, however, pleaded with the Speaker not to withdraw his support for the girls on the account of any threat, as “the people will feel disappointed”.

The mass wedding had been scheduled for May 24 but the likelihood of it holding depends on further events moving forward.

Forced or arranged marriage is a common phenomenon in Nigeria, especially among rural communities predominantly in the north despite national laws prohibiting it.

Advocates of this kind of marriage often cite religious and cultural norms allowing it to thrive.

According to Girls Not Brides, a global network of more than 1,400 civil society groups working to end child marriage, 30% of girls in Nigeria are married before they turn 18.