Helen Ovbiagele

Some time ago, a male teacher and his fifteen year-old pupil began a romantic relationship.  It was reported that the affair was not exactly a clandestine one as members of staff and other pupils were aware that they spent much time together, even outside school hours. No-one thought much of it until they both went missing, and were later discovered some months ago to be living together in France.

There was a huge outcry in the entire country as the teacher was called a paedophille and accused of seducing and then abducting the young girl.  He was arrested in handcuffs and brought back to Britain, and was charged to court. The girl who’s now 18, cried her eyes out and explained that she had not been seduced nor abducted, but that they fell in love and had been dating normally.  She said they were going to get married on completion of her education.

The law took its course anyway, and recently,  her teacher/lover was  sentenced to five years in prison.  She vowed to wait for him, and pay him visits. The man who’s now 30, also says he will marry her when he’s out of prison.  Tough luck, you may say, because, if it were in this country, some families would have allowed the couple to marry, and that would have been the end of the matter.  But that’s not what happens in a place where the child’s rights are truly protected.

The teacher’s case was made worse because it came at a time when several adults came out to claim that the late Sir Jimmy Saville (the seat belt ‘click clunk’ man, and presenter of Top of the Pops for the BBC,) had, for decades in his life-time, sexually abused them when they were children,.  The fondness and respect most citizens had for Saville quickly turned to dislike and condemnation, and the BBC was criticized for ‘turning a blind eye’ to the acts.  Saville died last year in his eighties, and since the accusations began to surface only after his death, nothing could be done to punish him for taking advantage of those young admirers of his who hung around his studio, sought audience with him at events, etc.

His knighthood from the Queen for philanthropy, raising funds for the needy,  and service in broadcasting was withdrawn.  Saville’s case has led to several other popular public figures in Britain  being investigated at present for sex offences that took place years ago.  That’s what happens in a truly democratic setting when  a child is abused. His/her rights are protected by the law, no matter how old or high-up the offender is, and how old the offence is.  If he’s found guilty, he gets punished!

The Senate

We claim that we’ve embraced democracy, yet, our upper House is pushing a law which gives full right for male adults to sexually abuse very young girls, under the guise that a married girl, no matter the age, is considered an adult!

Personally, I’m shocked that with all the enlightened law-makers we have in the Senate, such a retrogressive law is being considered.

Unlike the incident above where a fifteen year old fell in love with her teacher, and went off willingly  with him, in Nigeria, parents are very much involved in all marriages.

I challenge any of those Senators who think that would be a good law, to give out their under-aged daughter in marriage, like the poor people do!  I doubt if any of them would have daughters who are not as well-educated as she’s capable of.  The elite from areas where underaged marriage for girls is the norm, make it a point to educate all their children – both male and female – outside the country.   I can’t see their daughters being given out in marriage while they’re yet children.

If none of  our law-makers would want to give out their under-aged daughters in marriage, then why are they contemplating this law?

I think it’s an attempt to further oppress and keep in subjection, the poor of the land.  It’s only the poor and the uneducated who would give out their daughters in marriage in the girls’ childhood.  Why would they do this?   Because they’re told by those who lead them that it’s the right faith thing to do!  Also, giving out children in marriage, for them, is a way out of abject poverty, because it’s one less mouth to feed and body to clothe.  In addition, the son-in-law will help the family financially.

One gets this picture of  ‘big men’ cruising around in their vehicles, looking for ‘pretty-young-things’ to snatch from their cradles before other men get them.  They approach the parents of the girls, who of course would eagerly give out their daughters to a big man.  The girls are too young to be asked whether they want to get married yet, and to the big man. Some of them are yet to attain puberty and start their periods.   So, the decision is made for them and  then they are taken away to be raised by their husbands. How can such children be considered adults?

There is much danger to a girl’s health and general well-being if she’s married off at a very tender age, and forced into early child-bearing.  Her reproductory system is not yet ready to carry pregnancy and  deliver babies, so, many of them have the dreaded VVF ailment later; where a woman leaks from her uterus uncontrollably.  The smell she emits, which attracts hordes of flies, makes her a social outcast, as the husband sends her away, and she’s also rejected by her family and the community.  She ends up by the roadside as a beggar; eventually dying in the bush when the condition deteriorates.

Over the years, I’ve attended and reported on many conferences/seminars, dealing with the condition. Thanks to the good NGOs we have on women’s health, and some cooperative government officials, there are hospitals around the country where surgeries are successfully carried out on victims.

Apart from the health aspect of underaged marriage, what about the girl’s general well-being.  We talk of the Rights of the Child, and yet we want marriage to happen so early in a young girl’s life, that she has no way of contributing meaningfully to national development.  Aren’t we taking away her rights to choose a life for herself if we give her parents the right to marry her off as a child, and the husband the  right to sexually assault an under-aged girl, and force early womanhood and parenthood on her; all in the guise of  being her husband?


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