Nigeria was in the news in 2015 thanks to the revival of the hashtag #ChildNotBride in revolt to the new proposed Gender Equality Bill, struck out because it dared to advocate that the minimum age for marriage in Nigeria be raised to 18. But the hashtag itself was originally coined in 2013 when the then Governor of Zamfara state Ahmed Yerima’s married a thirteen-year-old Egyptian bride, passing it off as Allah’s will for her.
The sheer abuse of power, and the fact that such an exploitative act was legal in Nigeria was too much for many women and men to bear. However, the entire march soon devolved into a debate on whether these kinds of marriages were only prevalent in Nigeria’s Muslim North and sanctioned by Islam.
As it turns out, Underaged marriage is a global problem, that is being championed just as aggressively by ‘progressive’ Christianity as it is by fundamentalist Muslims.
A recent New York Times Article chronicles the experience of former child bride Sherry Johnson, who after being sexually abused at 11 by a 20 year old, was forced to marry the man as a way to ‘preserve’ her honour and prevent the man from being charged with statutory rape and sent to jail. All of this happened in the heart of America, the Land of the Free and the home of the brave and Sherry is not the only one. Women as young as 12 can legally marry in most of Africa provided they have the consent of a parent and a judge. Many of the forced child marriages, which is tantamount to statutory rape, barely lasts beyond 18 when the victim gains legal independence from their spouse and parents. But that is often too late for them.
Child brides in Christian communities face discrimination from their churches and its extended networks if they dare to ‘break’ their marriages and are often ostracised. But the solution isn’t rescuing girls from child marriages or forcing Churches to report underage courting, the solution as 15 year old Cassandra Levesque is advocating, is to the change the laws that allow this happen in the first place, so no girl should even have to consider underage marriage.
If in the heart of America’s devout Christian South, child marriages still occur then it shows the problem of child marriage is one that needs to solved universally. It is not a Muslim problem, a problem of primitive African ‘cultures’ or a religious problem. It is a problem of absent legislation protecting girls and poor implementation of the protections that do exist.
It is time to stop pointing fingers and start fixing that.