By Joseph Chidiebere Osuigwe
The news about teenage girls (minor) being forced to leave their home to be married to men who don’t have regard to the word: “consent”, is not new in Nigeria.
There are yearly incidences about teenage girls who are deceived, coerced, or abducted to live with men. However, few of these incidences appear to the public while majority are unnoticed. But it is so lamentable that government is not taking immediate and adequate actions to prosecute the offenders, nor rescue the victims. This is an issue that should be audaciously handled by both the government and public without consideration of the geo-political region or religion of the offender.
The story of Ese Oruru, a 14 year old girl who was abducted from Bayelsa State and taken to Kano, by one Yunusa, where she was converted to Islam and forced into marriage; has brought the issue of this criminal act to public attention, igniting reactions among Nigerians.
Though this is one out of twenty cases of abduction and forced marriages happening in Nigeria every year, there have been mixed reactions among journalists and human rights activists on this matter. A lot of people have argued if Ese was actually abducted or consented to the Yunusa’s request to go to Kano.
In an exclusive audio recording obtained by PREMIUM TIMES on Monday 29th February 2016, the abducted girl, whose Islamic name is now Aisha Chuwas, said, “I am 17-year-old. I came here to be a Muslim and I will stay here.” Her “new age and name” has made several people, even a human rights lawyer, to see the whole story as a reflection of love or juvenile delinquency.
No matter how the story is painted to appeal to people’s mind, it can never be an act of love between Ese and Yunusa. He may have succeeded in brainwashing the girl to accept a new religion, making her claim that she is 17 years instead of 14, and turning her mind against her parents; but the fact still remains that she is still a minor.
The abduction of Ms Ese Oruru, whether 14 or 17years, for the purpose of marriage is an act of trafficking in persons, which is prohibited under section 13 of Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act.
This is nothing less than “forced marriage”. We need to call it by its name, “trafficking for forced marriage”. Hence, Mr. Yunusa is a trafficker, and should be seen as nothing less than a trafficker.
It is important to note that Trafficking for forced marriage is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, especially girls by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments for the purpose of marriage.
In the case of Ese, she is still below the age of marital consent. The age of consent in Nigeria is 18 years (Section 31 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003). Also, Sections 21 and 22 of the same Act prohibit Child Marriage or betrothal.
Forced marriage is a form of human rights abuse, and it violates the principle of the freedom and autonomy of individuals.
At this juncture, I call on government, all appropriate agencies/authorities and the general public to take this case as a violation of the basic human right of Ms. Ese Oruru, and to treat the perpetrator as a criminal.
Joseph Chidiebere Osuigwe is Executive Director, DEVATOP Centre for Africa Development (www.devatop.org). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @unclejoseph4u
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