How young Nigerian girls with unwanted pregnancies are forced into marrying older men, women

“My husband died a year after we got married,” began Chinwe Eze (not real name), a young mother of three who told the story of how she was forced into marriage when she fell pregnant for the young man that rejected her pregnancy. “I was 16 then, and he was 65.”

“My husband died on the 3rd of December, 2011,” she explained further, pointing to the wall of her sparsely decorated living room where the date ‘3/12/2011’ was written with white chalk as if to constantly remind her of the death of the elderly man whom she got married to but barely knew.

Chinwe’s countenance, as she narrated her story, was that of one who has resigned to the fate life had thrown at her. She was only a teenager living with her uncle and his wife at Aba in Abia State, South-eastern Nigeria when she was put in the family way.

“My mother was selling okpa (a traditional Igbo food). She used the little money she made to take care of me and my five siblings. My father had no job, so he left everything for my mother to do. And since she couldn’t take care of all of us with her meagre income, she sent us to our relatives to live with them,” she narrated.

Chinwe, who hails from Ezinifite in Anambra State, was sent to stay with her uncle when she was ten. Six years later, a twenty-year-old trade apprentice impregnated her. He accepted the pregnancy but wondered how he, a “boy-boy” (an apprentice), could take care of a pregnant girl. Chinwe’s uncle accepted the N20,000 that the apprentice could raise and bundled her back home to her mother.

“They brought me back home to my parents and my family insisted that I must get married. I refused, but they warned that if I put to bed at home, that I and the baby would have it rough as there was no money to look after us. I had to accept one of the elderly men who came seeking my hand in marriage. He was a widower whose wife died without giving him any issue. I was five months pregnant then,” she narrated.

Chinwe gave birth to her son four months later but the celebration of her childbirth was cut short when her elderly husband died. He was a sickly man whose family desperately wanted him to have an heir before dying; in a society that promotes male ascendancy.

After his death, Chinwe decided to return to her father’s house since her late husband’s family was not treating her nicely. She however did not get that succour she craved in her father’s house.

“My mother was still struggling. I tried to join her in the okpa business but things were not working. My late husband’s family started pressurizing me to come back. I weighed the two options and decided to go back,” she added.

But the option Chinwe took came with a price. Her husband’s family promised to take care of her and her son in exchange for her breeding more babies for her late husband.

Patrick OkpalaPatrick Okpala

“In my hometown in Nibo, we accept a girl and her pregnancy because one cannot tell what the child would become in future,” he asserted.

Mr Okpala however added that sometimes, it is because of the uncertainty of the child’s destiny that some families do not allow the child to be born into their homes as such a child could, for instance, grow into a very prosperous person and even outshine the male siblings of the pregnant girl and command more respect.

“There is currently a case in my village where such children are struggling for the ownership of land with their mother’s siblings. They have become wealthier and are insisting on getting the same share of land as the legitimate children in the family,” he narrated.

What the government is doing

The Co-Chair of Anambra State Child’s Rights Law Implementation Committee (ASCRIC), Hope Okoye, stated that the committees are working assiduously to ensure that practices that violate the Child Rights Law and the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Law are eliminated in the state.

Mrs Okoye, who is also the Coordinator of the VAPP Law Implementation Committee in Anambra, said they were working with the local governments and community leaders to set up a response team that would ensure that gender-based violence of any form is eradicated and that justice is served to the survivors.

“We are also planning on identifying endemic communities where child marriage is prevalent so that we will carry out sensitization on the provisions of the Child Right Law and the VAPP Law. We take advantage of the existing platforms and liaise with communities and then sensitize them. Sometimes, we go to their market and churches to create the awareness,” she added.

Mrs Okoye, who is also the Executive Director of the Integrated Anti-Human Trafficking and Community Development Initiative (IATCDI), urged families whose daughters had unwanted pregnancies and are finding it difficult to take care of the babies, to give them out in adoption.

“The Ministry of Women Affairs is responsible for facilitating the processes of adopting a child. There are people who are ready to officially adopt a child through the ministry. The ministry still reserves the right to revoke the adoption if anything goes wrong. People are ignorant of these facts, and that is the reason they would want to push out their girls with unwanted pregnancies,” she concluded.

Support for this story was provided by the Media and Gender Project of Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism#CREATESAFESPACES.

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