…You know you want to
Pardon my use of Pidgin English in the title. I just had to register my true feelings as early as possible .
In the wake of the #ChildNotBride campaign set up against the child marriage bill (a.k.a weapon of mass destruction) that the Nigerian Senate is brandishing, someone has to get up and say a little about our hypocrisy as a people and how much more we need to do to safeguard the interests of these young girls being put at risk.
I don’t want the bill to be passed into law. It would break my heart to see a day when girls as young as Nine (9) years old can be married off to men (full grown men!) or even boys. I believe that girls should be given an education; be allowed to grow up; decide on a career path and a man after their own heart and then make a willful and conscious decision to marry. It would be most unnatural to subject little girls to the daily reality of marriage when they don’t even understand their own bodies yet, not to talk of that of their new ‘husbands’.
Without such a destructive law being in force, many young girls are already being subjected to deadly unions with men old enough to be their grand-daddies. I strongly believe that such men are driven by certain paedophiliac forces of darkness but that’s a story for another day.
Now to the issue of our hypocrisy;
I was driving home yesterday and I branched off the main road to avoid the traffic ahead. I knew the road was bad on my detour but I just wanted to avoid the queue at the round-about by all means. So, there I was, driving through a long stretch of terribly bumpy road and as ‘luck’ would have it, two motorists in front decided that they would not be patient and go one at a time so they blocked the road and in the usual manner of Lagos traffic, they started to cuss each other out.
By this time, I resigned to fate and set my gear on neutral. That was when I noticed a young girl by the side of the road. She wore a hijab and looked no more than 14 years old. Close to her legs was a tray of wares she might have been hawking before deciding to take a break. A youngish looking Fulani man stood next to her with both hands in the pockets of his threadbare trousers. He was smiling and whispering close to her. She had her back slightly turned to him and she smiled shyly and looked at him from the corner of her eyes. My head grew hot and I wanted to grab my court shoes and break up that party.
All I could imagine was him cajoling her over a couple of days and finally having his way with her. I imagined her getting pregnant for that young man who I’m sure, like most of the Hausa/Fulani men in my area is homeless and struggling. I imagined the negative impact that an amorous relationship at this age could have on her future and I imagined her having to suffer the pains of pregnancy and child bearing at such a young age. I wanted so much to help her. I wanted to scream what horrible premonition I had of the outcome of their conversation but I just sat there, helpless and sad, praying silently in my heart that she wouldn’t listen to whatever perversity he was whispering in her ear.
The traffic cleared ahead so I set my gear back to drive and literally moved on with my life, possibly never to see that young girl again.
Child, not bride; yes, I agree. But, look around you…is it just the child brides that are suffering sexual abuse, under-aged pregnancy and prostitution in Nigeria? What have you done to protect the unmarried young girls within your reach from harm’s way?
What did you do to protect your 12 year old maid when you found out that your driver did nasty things to/with her in his room whenever you sent her to give him food?
What did you do to help your landlord’s teenage daughter when you noticed that the bachelor next door was always asking her to come inside his room after running errands for him?
What did you do when your little sister came home from school and told you the ‘uncle’ next door said she has a nice bottom?
Did you report to the authorities when you found out that ‘Madam Dollar’ near your house keeps a house full of teenage prostitutes?
What did you do when you came home that afternoon and heard Ada screaming ‘daddy stop’, yet again?
I could go on and on but I‘ll stop with the examples in the hope that you get the picture. My point here is that we cannot go up in arms against this preposterous bill while we ignore the young girls around us who could have been saved from rape, venereal diseases, under-aged pregnancies, sex trafficking and many other evils if we had spoken up and gone up in arms against their attackers or handlers. If we must fight this, we have to fight it everywhere we see it.
Take a stand today. Stand up for the vulnerable young girls around you. Don’t wait till it happens to your own child or relative. If everyone puts in a little effort, we can save one girl at a time. We can empower young girls to know what is right for them and fight for it rather than succumb so easily to the predators in their lives.
Don’t just scream the #ChildNotBride mantra. Be the voice of the girl next door who has fought so hard and can no longer defend herself. Even if by some unfortunate stroke of luck, this bill succeeds, I know millions of Nigerians will still not subscribe to it but many unmarried young girls will continue to suffer sexual abuse if we don’t change out attitude.
Developing a culture of defending and protecting the girls within our reach is the cake while getting this new bill thrown out will be the icing. Icing definitely makes more delicious sense when we have cake to eat it with.