The Patriot Institute of Journalism and Arts (PIJA), Lance Magazine is a public-centric independent media organisation dedicated to fighting injustice, fostering social justice and community development through the telling and retelling of the marginalised-oriented stories.
Girl-Marriage: I was Given to marry 82-year old man at Age 5, victim says
In Nigeria of the 21st Century, one cannot know the primitive ways of girl-child-marriage Slavism cunningly tagged “marriage” exist in Becheve Community, area of Obanliku Local Government in Cross River State.
It became a matter of dumbfounding surprise when Mother of five, Dorathy Etagwa explained to our Investigative Team how she was given to marry a 55-year-old man at the age of five.
Now over 30-year-old, Mrs Etagwa has described her marriage as bondage and a condo where unhappiness is brewed. While lamenting, how she was forced into the marriage, the victim of girl-marriage has never experienced love.
“I was given to an early marriage at the age of 5. Now I am more 32 and the man might be 82 or more. I was never happy about the marriage but it seems that is the custom around our community. I never experienced love or was allowed to know what true love is. My age mates were already graduates making it big in life while I, was only allowed to be making children and feeding the man and the family, farming many farmlands but cannot enjoy the proceeds of the farm as I was married as a slave. I only do what I am commanded to do and not argue,” Dorathy Etagwa revealed.
Sobbing, Etagwa continued that “the evil part of it is I can’t leave the marriage because my children will suffer especially the female ones as they would be sold off as well. I don’t want to allow my children to suffer what I suffered as far as I am here with them unless they will kill me.”
Mystery of Olambe
A system of marrying off a girl as a ransom for debts at an illegal age is called “Money Marriage”. Many times these marriages are with aged men within the range of 55 and above. It is a common belief that girls have no worth than giving birth and bringing money to the family. So, most of the times family intentionally give out their girls to marry any wealthy aged man. This act is expected to bring money to the girl’s family. However, for any girl within that category that dare to run away from the lethal “money marriage,” the use of “Olambe” comes to torture the girl and killed her and her children if at all, she had any yet.
Olambe is a voodoo act commonly known to be the judge of defaulters of “Money Marriage,”. It will arrest, torture and kill any of its victims. This is the fear of all girls marrying off illegally. And it is the fear of Dorathy Etagwa who chose to spend the rest of her life with the 82-year-old man protecting her children than being pursued by Olambe.
“Because of Olambe, I am forced to stay in the marriage. It is very traumatic that young girls of one year are sold into marriage,” Dorathy told PIJAlance.
Wilberforce Etun, an indigene of the community who resides in Calabar, also disclosed that the traditional portion of Olambe works strategically. The husband of the defaulting money wife must have secretly rubbed it on the wife’s body or inserted it into her body or even charmed her. She can therefore not be able to abscond. She will always return, Etun added.
Becheve Community and the money wives
Money wives have been in existence since probably time immemorial. No one can ascertain how long girls have been made to marry aged men for debt repayment.
Channels Television reported a similar case of it in 2018 while Daily Post in 2020, also made an extensive report on the evil brewed in the Becheve community called “Money marriage.”
Becheve, found in the famous Obudu hills, a stone’s throw from the famed Obudu Mountain Resort, on the hilly stretches of Obanliku Local Government Area of Cross River State, is a chilly haze where money marriage is held in high esteemed.
The Becheve are a group of about 100, 000 people who speak 17 dialects of the same language and are spread into Benue State and the Republic of Cameroon, between which Obanliku is squeezed.
But borders and dialects aside, Daily Post reported that
the Becheve people are tied by this shadowy culture that has constantly put them in the uncomfortable limelight.
It is a culture that allows the use of women and girls to pay debts or procure favours in what has become known as “money wives.”
These money wives could be women, young girls or even the unborn.
In reality, they are more slave wives than anything else.
According to this practice, a man whose wife is pregnant and is having financial issues could decide to take a loan which he would pay with the daughter by giving her out as a wife to the loan shark.
Such arrangements are entered into even before the sex of the child is known.
Once the agreement is entered into, the father could make demands for food or money from the moneylender.
The lender would keep records of how much he is owed, often converting gifts given to the girl’s parents into monetary terms and noting them down as part of the debt.
Even the girl’s mother is entitled to show up at the lender’s house to receive gifts of money or other items.
In the end, the debt is written off as the bride price.
The girl is surrendered to the lender as a wife to put to use as he pleases.
The girl will have no rights and her opinion is never sought in the matter as she is practically enslaved.
Such women are put to work on farms which they cultivate for their husbands.
She is left to fend for herself, as the husband is not obligated to care for her.
He may sleep with her or pass her on to his relatives for sex or hire her as a farmhand.
The men in Becheve cherish this practice as a status symbol as it earns them acclaim amongst their peers.
No surprise then that many of them go out of their way to acquire money wives.
However, recent attention on the practice from outside the community is threatening the men’s desires.
Our correspondent, who visited this community, reports that the men are unhappy with the attention as it might scuttle their age-old practice.
While it may be fain for the men, for the women, it is pain. One of these women is Dorathy Etagwa, 33.
She became a money-wife at 5.
Becheve, a community where Gender Equality is dead meat
The community of Becheve in Obanliku Local Government Area of Cross River State, Nigeria is still practising the disturbing and unacceptable act of “Money Marriage,” or “Girl-Marriage” in which young girls, even those as young as five years old, are given in marriage. This practice involves using young girls to pay debts or borrow money and even includes promising unborn baby girls in exchange for favours or to repay debts to wealthy men in the community. And with this, one may say gender equality is as masquerade saliva, so rare to find.
For more than a decade, it has been reported that if a man in Becheve does not have a “Money Wife,” he is not seen as a successful man. These young girls are treated as slaves and are used as sexual objects by their elderly husbands. They are denied their freedom, rights, and emotions, and are expected to care for their husbands and their children at a very young age. When their husbands die, these girls are often given to a relative as a wife as well. There is no chance for them to experience freedom or emotional security.
Girls in Becheve are marginalized and not valued in the same way as boys. They are just as capable of becoming leaders, healthcare providers, and athletes as boys. This practice of “Money Marriage” is criminal and goes against morality, rights, freedoms, and acceptable behaviour. It is time for the traditional leader of the community, the Governor of Cross River State, and other stakeholders to take action and eliminate this evil from the community. It is also important to educate the community on the dangers of “Money Marriage” and the importance of treating girls as equals to boys. Girls are capable of love and being loved, of being educated and useful, and of being solution providers and homemakers in society. There is more to a girl than just being a sexual object. It is time to say no to slavery, early marriage, and deprivation of rights and freedoms for girls. It is time to save the future of girls and to recognize their worth and potential. Nigerians can all take action to make a difference and protect the rights of girls in Becheve and beyond.
Experts’ Views on Girl-child Marriage
The first global study on the economic cost of child marriage shows that this human rights violation also has a major negative impact on national economies.
The Economic Impacts of Child Marriage research, conducted jointly by The World Bank and The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), shows that the biggest economic impacts of child marriage are related to fertility and population growth, education, earnings and the health of children born to young mothers. The study highlights that investments in ending child marriage can help countries achieve multiple development goals.
Speaking about the launch of the report in Washington DC, Lakshmi Sundaram, Executive Director of Girls Not Brides, said “This research provides crucial evidence showing that child marriage doesn’t just impact the lives of the 15 million girls married every year, but also has a major negative impact on the economic development of the countries in which these girls live. Governments and other policy-makers should be spurred on by this research to commit additional energy and resources to end child marriage by 2030. By ridding the world of child marriage, we can help alleviate poverty and ensure that girls everywhere have access to a brighter future.”
The three-year research project examined existing data from 15 to 25. It looked at ways in which child marriage may influence economic and social outcomes at the household and national levels.