In this report, Jameelah Nuhu Sanda takes a look at the raging controversy over the abduction of 14 year-old Ese Oruru and notes that beyond the legal angle to the debate, it is also a clash of cultures

As soon as the news of the abduction of Ese Oruru broke, it went viral and has continued to trend. The reasons are glaring – it was the abduction of a 14 –year -old Christian girl (13-year-old at the time of abduction); she was taken from her parents in Yenagoa across the Niger to Kano; married to her abductor, Yunusa Dahihu -a Muslim; and converted to Islam. Many were also alarmed by the fact that the incident happened in August 2015 and that it was reported to the Police both in Bayelsa and Kano, but the Police could not secure her release. Following nationwide outcry, Oruru was released by her abductor who has now been arrested. She has been re-united with her parents in Yenogoa.

Already, Yunusa has been arraigned in court. In the case No FHC/YNG/17c/2016 between the Inspector General of Police versus Yinusa Dahiru, he is facing a five counts of criminal abduction, illicit sex, sexual exploitation of a minor and unlawful carnal knowledge. He is currently remanded in prison pending the determination of his bail application. The case which is before the Federal High Court, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State has continued to generate nationwide interest. His prosecutors are arguing that the suspect committed an offence punishable under Section 27(a) of the Trafficking in persons (prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act, 2015.

Disparate Cultures
Surprisingly, while most of those that have condemned her abduction are from the South, not many voices have been heard on the issue in the North. This may however not be unconnected with the disparate cultures, which could also be termed as clash of cultures. While voices in the South, where Oruru hails from, view a forceful marriage for a 14-year-old as an abomination, most of the views that had been expressed by ordinary people in the North, particularly Muslims, only condemned the abduction of the girl and her forceful conversion to Islam, not the fact that Yunusa married a minor. This is because early marriage is a cultural practice in many of the states in the North. Some of the feedbacks from stories published on online platforms showed that most of the commentators from the North castigated Yunusa for abducting the young girl instead of seeking the blessings of her parents.

This is because they are aware that abduction is a crime. In fact, the Panel Code, which applies in Kano State, states that whoever kidnaps or abducts any person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which extends to a period of ten years and shall also be liable to fine. Several of the commentators from the North did not see anything wrong in the fact that Yunusa who is said to be above 18 married a 14 year old girl. Rather than condemn the whole saga, they viewed Yunusa’s prosecution as a persecution of an innocent young man whose only crime was to have fallen in love. To them, it is the story of two love birds.

Their worldview is however based on culture. In fact, early marriage is one of the key issues affecting female children between the ages of 8 and 17 in the North where it is believed a child’s first menstrual period should be in her husband’s house. In most cases, these young girls, who are also labeled ‘child-bride’ by the media, know nothing about marital life.

Coming from a village of around Kano with no educational background, some of those commentators are of the view that Yunusa might not even know the law of his country regarding early marriage and age limit, because all his life, early marriage has been a common practice in the society in which he lives. This however does not reduces the gravity of Yunusa’s action even though in many societies in the North, early marriage is considered an honor to the groom,

What Can be done?
Early marriage has generally affected girl child education in the North, a development that has further worsened the low literacy level in the region. Apart from education, serious health challenges and high maternal mortality rate are also some of the consequences of child marriage. Most of these kids end up having Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF), a pregnancy related disability. No fewer than 800,000 women in Nigeria are affected by VVF annually, according to a 2015 report by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, UNFPA.

Vesico-vaginal fistula is a serious disability that can be experienced by women after childbirth. It is defined as a hole that develops between the vagina and the bladder, resulting in uncontrollable leaking of urine through the vagina.

The most common cause of vesico vaginal fistula is obstructed labour, early marriage, poverty, and women’s limited control over the use of family resources. Women and girls with this disability are often abandoned by their husbands and isolated from the community due to the putrid smell and associated shame of urine leakage.

But so much can still be done to protect the girl-child, both in the North and in other parts of the country. For instance, wives of state governors could make girl-child education their pet projects through which they encourage parents to ensure that their female children are enrolled in schools and go as far as university education. Highlighting the importance of education and creating female role models that girls in the North would hope to emulate is also a good way to gradually address the issue of child-marriage.