At the Women Deliver conference earlier this month, I met Nigerian Senator Iyabo Obasanjo Bello, daughter of a former Nigerian President and holder of the health portfolio in the Senate. She and I talked again at the two-day NCRW-US Committee for UNIFEM sponsored conference on gender-based violence.
She told me the following story:
Nigerian Senator and former governor of Zamfara State Ahmed Sani Yerima, 49, recently married the 13-year-old daughter of his Egyptian driver. A large sum of money exchanged hands. In Zamfara State, Yerima had instituted shari’a law. Two years ago the Senator also married a 15-year-old. Child marriage is listed as one form of gender-based violence on the website of the United Nations Population Fund.
It is illegal both in Nigeria and in Egypt to marry a girl under the age of 18. The Senator was called in for questioning by Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP). The marriage also contravenes the 2003 Child Rights Act.
Mma Wokocha, head of Nigeria’s Women’s Medical Association: “This very evil act should not be seen to be perpetrated by one of our distinguished legislators.” Theresa Odogwu, President of Soroptimist International of Nigeria wrote that this put the young woman at great risk of maternal mortality or morbidity including vesico-vaginal fistula. “The girl-child has no power within the marital relationship to resist her husband and demand respect for her reproductive health rights. Early marriage is capable of terminating the girl’s education, thereby denying her right to achieve her individual potential and realising her aspirations.” Thirty members of Soroptimists marched on the Lagos State House of Assembly in protest.
As for Senator Yerima, he says he was only following in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammed who, he said, married a nine-year-old girl. In Islam, he stated, the age of a bride is not relevant when the issue of marriage is involved.
And there you have it, pedophilia disguised as religion and marriage. I also call this terrorism because at 13, if this had happened to me, I would have been terrified.
Child marriage is one of the greatest evils on the planet. Religions have always excused great evils. I cry for all past and future victims.