“Elham Mahdi al Assi was a young girl with great plans for her future. Those plans came to a cruel end when she married a man who would later become her murderer. One day after her marriage, Elham was taken to hospital due to excessive bleeding. The doctor who examined her saw that her internal canal was ripped and asked for her to be admitted. Her husband refused to adhere to the doctor’s advice and insisted in taking his wife home. Two days later he brought a motionless Elham back to the doctor in an emergency. Shortly thereafter, the doctor pronounced her dead from severe hemorrhaging resulting from the rupture of internal organs caused from intimacy with her husband… Elham Mahdi Al Assi was 12 years old at the time she was married off and 12 when she died.”
“Nujood Ali was a girl with the ambition of one day becoming a doctor. Her dreams were halted abruptly and her troubles started when she was taken out of school and married off to a man over twice her age. Her husband beat and raped her continuously, but a determination within her prompted her to escape to a court house, where she demanded for the judge to give her an annulment. Najood was 10 when she was married off and 10 years old when she said “NO” and survived.”
The case of angels like Elham, Fawziya and Nujood are a stark reminder of the increased risks placed on young girls who are married off too early and are clear examples of the justification for limits and enforcement of such limits on the age of marriage.
In several Islamic countries such as Yemen, the trend of very early arranged marriage, where girls as young as 8 and 9 are pawned out to much older men are common. In such societies there is a preference for child brides because they are considered docile, submissive and subservient to a husband. Usually the parents of the girls are agreeable to such union because the marriage of the girls lessens the financial burden on the family. In some instances, the parents insist on an undertaking from the husband that the marriage would not be consummated until the girl gets older and is mature. But from the accounts of the girls, the husbands hardly ever adhere to this arrangement. The high rate of underage marriage is generally attributed to economic reasons and largely takes place in Middle Eastern countries or rural areas of third world countries.
This week’s news that the Nigerian senate reversed a vote that appeared to outlaw underage marriage despite a senate policy that prohibits repeat votes on clauses was not only outrageous but disturbing and injudicious.
The calamity of abject poverty, sheer ignorance, sordid influence, appalling desire and absolute disregard of liberty personifies the atrocious case of the senators or anyone else for that matter, making a case to permit the marriage of minors.
Cases where andropausal men in the midst of their mid life crisis endeavor to purloin the innocence and childhood of a girl young enough to be their granddaughters, all in the name of matrimonial bliss are simply thoughtless, unfair and scandalous. Although the age at which a child assumes majority varies in different countries, depending on the jurisdiction and application, it would be difficult for anyone to make a case that a girl yet to reach the age of 13 has in anyway reached maturity or is any way near the threshold of adulthood, let alone view such a minor as a wife. It really is a contemptible catastrophe and a desecration of common decency for any adult Nigerian in this day and age to openly justify the rationality and humanity of such an unfortunate union. To take a young girl and treat her as if she were a woman is in all definition nothing short of child abuse and pedophilia.
The distaste of the senators who are justifying the concept of child marriages is made even worse by the fact that the senators are senior members of a legislative body that is meant to make laws that protect every citizen of Nigeria, including young girls. What happened in the hallowed chambers last Tuesday is outrageous to the very highest level and a huge embarrassment to the Nigerian Senate. Under the Child Rights Act 2003, the rights of every child are categorically outlined. The statute provides “a child’s best interests shall remain paramount in all considerations” and they shall be given the care and protection that is necessary for their wellbeing. Such laws were made in order to shelter children, especially young girls, from the transgressions of elements in the society. As leaders, one wonders what kind of example the senators justifying underage marriage imagine themselves to be setting, especially in the light of numerous cases of child abuse that the government is fighting.
One wonders where the senators place the concept of maternal mortality, which is so much higher in societies that fail to protect prepubescent girls from exposure to the dangers that come with being a child bride and the medical safety of young girls. It is absolutely medically unsafe for a child to be exposed in a way that makes them candidates for Vesico-Vaginal fistula (VVF). When a young girl, whose pelvis is too narrow to give birth, is exposed to carnal acts or carrying and bearing a baby before her body is ready, pressure from the baby’s head blocks the circulation in her anatomy, destroying her tissue and forcing a gape which allows for involuntary urine flow. These and other pregnancy and labour complications are the fatal and painful realities faced by young girls who are forced to marry before or as soon as they reach puberty.
Every child should, at the very least have the right to grow up and every child should, in its most basic form, have the freedom of innocence. Regardless of any opinion, culture or religion, the issues regarding what values represent the right of a child to care, education, protection against violence and so many other basic liberties, are one and the same. This can certainly not be an un religious, western or imperialist viewpoint, but one of humanity.
Elham Mahdi al Assi, Fawziya Ammodi and Nujood Ali were all beautiful young girls, who deserved to have a childhood that prepared them for adulthood, but it was stolen from them. And while Elham and Fawziya didn’t survive their ordeal, Nujood stands as a beacon of hope for all the pre-adolescent child brides who are the unfortunate victims of stolen lives.
As the Nigerian National Assembly resume in voting for the laws that will eventually make up a revised new Nigerian Constitution, they should step up to their responsibility of protecting the rights and freedoms of the young by addressing this issue of such ridiculous early marriages and completely outlawing it.
While they do that, in the interest of all the young girls in Nigeria, Egypt, Yemen and beyond, those who have the opportunity should please ask the senators and those adult men who forage on the innocence of other people’s young daughters, if they truly believe that marrying a small, little, preadolescent girl is a right, positive or fair act. If the answer to that question is in the affirmative, they should then ask those same senators and men whether they would be ready to accept such early marriages for their preteen daughters. If the answer to that second question is nothing less than an ecstatic yes, then they have conceded that marrying a girl at such a tender age in these times is not right; it’s taking advantage of a girl and rendering her life… stolen!
Those of us who choose to stand on the side of the girl child and protect her from the dangers she will be exposed to as a child bride must all lend our voices in urging the senate to reconsider its position and resolution on child marriage. We must also pressure the House of Representatives and Houses of Assembly to reject any clause that gives life to underage marriage… And before they cast their votes, I urge the legislators to take a minute to think about their own preadolescent daughters’ best interest. Because whatever is in the interest of their own prepubescent young daughters is also in the best interest of another person’s preadolescent young daughter.