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Girl forced into marriage commits suicide

Nineteen-year-old Asmau Ibrahim of Kwado village in Katsina State recently hanged herself in protest against her parents’ decision to force her into a marriage. Asmau, an SS2 student of the Government Day Secondary School, Daura Road, Katsina, desired a good education but her parents had a different plan for her.

 

Asmau told them that she should first be allowed to complete her studies and threatened to commit suicide if they insisted on marrying her off. They took her threat lightly and fixed a date for her wedding. The outcome was the girl’s suicide. Asmau’s parents are not alone.

Due to ignorance, poverty or both, many parents, especially in the northern part of the country, are guilty of acceding to early or forced marriages. And this has largely been responsible for the high incidence of a disease known as Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) among immature mothers. But hard-line parents have a lesson to pick from this unfortunate Katsina incident: the best they can do for their daughter is to counsel her in matters of marriage not to force a partner on her.

This uncivilized practice should be discouraged. A particular message Asmau has sent to parents like hers is that they should not toy with their children’s feelings and emotions. In Our View of October 30, last year, we affirmed that “slavery seems to have taken a new meaning in the 21st century” and mentioned early or forced marriages as a form of modern slavery.

Religion is not a defence for parents giving out their daughters early in life or forcing them to marry against their wish. Islam permits juvenile marriages among the Muslim community but it also has a proviso: the consent of the girl must be obtained. At 19, Asmau was already an adult who was old enough to decide when and whom to marry.

Nigeria is a signatory to certain international conventions on human rights. Therefore, we need not call for a law against early or forced marriage (even if there is no such existing law in the country). For one, it will be unenforceable. The greatest weapon against ignorance is education; everyone endowed with this weapon is encouraged to fight against this terrible disease.

Non-governmental organisations interested in women’s rights could have saved Asmau’s life if they had been informed of her travails and they acted on time. Educated relations could have also stopped her ignorant parents from clinging to an old-fashioned culture. There are many more victims waiting to be saved from ignorant, misguided or hard-line parents.