Friday, May 17, 2024

Activists in Nigeria condemn mass ‘forced marriages’ of 100 girls and young women

Human rights activists in Nigeria have launched a petition to stop a plan to push 100 girls and young women into marriage in a mass ceremony, which has caused outrage in the west African country.

The plan, sponsored by Abdulmalik Sarkindaji, the speaker of the national assembly in the largely Muslim north-western state of Niger, were criticised by Nigeria’s women’s affairs minister, Uju Kennedy Ohanenye. She said she would seek a court injunction to stop the ceremony next week and establish if any of the girls were minors.

Sarkindaji said the girls and young women were orphans whose parents were killed in attacks by kidnapping gangs that roam northern Nigeria. He said he would pay dowries to the grooms.

A petition launched on Wednesday that has more than 8,000 signatures said the Niger state government should prioritise the education of the girls instead of forcing them into marriage.

“We demand immediate action to halt the proposed forced marriages and to instead implement measures that will empower these girls to lead dignified and fulfilling lives,” the activists said.

Critics have expressed concern that some girls may be underage or being forced to comply for financial gain.

Sarkindaji and the Imams Forum of Niger said the marriage ceremony would go ahead on 24 May and insisted the girls were not underage.

Child marriages are common in the mostly Muslim north, where poverty levels are higher than the largely Christian south. Although the legal age of marriage is 18 under federal law, Nigerian states can set their own age.

Niger’s legal marriage age is also 18, but Sarkindaji’s spokesperson said that under sharia law, which is practised in the state, a girl can be married when she reaches puberty.

After meeting on Wednesday, the imams forum said it would take legal action against Kennedy Ohanenye if she did not withdraw her statement suggesting the girls were minors, its secretary, Umar-Faruk Abdullahi, said on local TV.

“We have given the minister seven days to withdraw her statement she used against us, against our speaker, against the Muslim community … that we want to force them into marriage and the children are underage,” said Abdullahi.

Kennedy Ohanenye did not respond to requests for comment.

The Guardian

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