Taming the monster of girl child abduction
While their peers are still basking in the bliss of adolescence, they have been introduced into the complexity of married life through forceful marriage. The story of Ese Oruru and other child brides abducted by their supposed husbands have again called to question the moral foundation of the Nigerian society. In this report, Bertram Nwannekanma and Geraldine Akutu underscore the need to end the menace.
Abduction of young girls for forceful marriages is not alien to Nigeria society as it existed even during the pre -colonial era.
Then, the practice, in some regions had the social sanction of the community, while in others; it was viewed as jestful theatrics, implying that there was no forced wedding and that the screaming bride was merely clowning.
Though the practice is still evident today, it has been criminalized and in some cases, the abducted child brides, or their parents, if they are not party to the abduction, have re-course to the law.
Notwithstanding, recent developments in Nigeria had shown that the trend is now assuming a more frightening trend.This tendency is heightened by alleged complicities of the police, traditional institutions, religious bigots and even judicial officers.
At first, it was the Christian community in northern Nigeria, who raised the alarm on the new phenomenon, when Christian girls under 18 are abducted and forced to convert to Islam.
Under the practice, the abducted girls are kept in the homes of emirs or radical religious leaders, sometimes linked to the “Boko haram” group.
The complaint by the Northern Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) hinges on the rapid growth of the phenomenon.The Association reports that it is currently following five cases on behalf of the families of the kidnapped girls.According to the Secretary of CAN, Daniel Babayi, when a report is made to the police, the officers always respond that they could not do anything. “Sometimes we believe they are complicit”, he said.
But it appeared nobody paid attention.
Then came the case of Ese Oruru, the 14-year-old Bayelsa-born girl child, who was abducted about September 2015 by Yunusa Dahiru, alias Yellow, a 25-year old Muslim resident of Yenagoa.Dahiru hails from Kano and lives in Bayelsa where he earns a living hawking water.
He reportedly abducted Ese, took her to Kano, converted her to Islam and renamed her Aisha before the Police in Kano rescued her.
Then there was Patience Paul, a 15-year- old Benue girl, who was allegedly abducted by Hisbah (Sharia Police) in Sokoto.
She was found less than 24 hours after Sokoto State Governor; Aminu Waziri Tambuwal ordered that the case be investigated.
Patience disappeared in August 2015 when she was 14 years old and had been in custody of the Sharia Police, who in a phone conversation told her family recently that they had married her out to a man who has taken her to Bauchi from Sokoto with the authority of Sarkin Muslumi, the Sultan, after she accepted Islam.
It was after the case of the missing Ese, the Bayelsa girl abducted to Kano, went viral on social media that her family went to the press, seeking succor.
But before Ese and Patience, there was Blessing Nyimbir Siman, whose case is probably the most heart-rending, if not hopeless of all child abduction cases.
Blessing, then a Christian and Junior Secondary School Two (JSS 2) pupil of Federal Housing Authority (FHA) Junior Secondary School Lugbe, Airport Road Abuja, was renamed Kadijat by her abductors and forcefully converted to Islam. Yakuba, who hails from Kastina state was living with his father, where he operated a phone charging office in the neighbourhood.
A grief-stricken father, Siman Gujil could not hold back his tears as he spoke to The Guardian on phone recently narrating the developments surrounding the disappearance of his dear daughter, who he saw last in October 2010.
The suspicion that a very highly placed judicial officer at the Kuje Upper Area Court, Abuja in connivance with the Police authorities, who allegedly exhibited gross lackadaisical attitude towards the plight of the family, has made the situation even more worrisome.
According to the father, who was a labourer and lives at Federal Housing Authority, Lugbe, he reported the matter at the Lugbe Police Station but could not get any help in the very institution that is supposed to be his friend.
Gujil said he could not get the help he sought because he was a man of little means. He said his young daughter’s abductors even had the courage to summon him at the Kuje Upper Area Court where their kinsman was allegedly a top judicial officer.
“The judge subsequently ordered for my arrest and that of my wife and others who followed me to the court.
“We were incarcerated at the court premises for 30 minutes and when we were released, we found out that Yakuba had run off with my daughter to Kaduna.
“The arrest order was to clear the way for her abductor to spirit her out of Abuja unchallenged,” Gujil said.
In the case of Patience, her father, Mr. Paul Adaji, an indigene of Ochobo in Ohimini local government area of Benue was reported saying that his daughter had been missing since August 12, 2015.
Mr. Adaji, who resides in Sokoto with his family, alleged that some persons spotted his daughter at the palace, while the family was searching for her. He said, “We got information that she was in the Sultan’s palace and the last time we went there we did not find her.” When asked how they knew she was at the palace, he said, “Some people told us that they saw her there, they also used to camp some of them there before, that is why we went there to see if she has been taken there. Even her friend who used to be a Christian was found there. She was taken there and they converted her.”
But, while the police acknowledged poor handling of the abduction of a 14-year-old girl, Ese Oruru, from Bayelsa State and responsibility for the delay in reuniting the teenager with her family, the attempt to exonerate Emir of Kano from the ugly episode did not go well with many.
According to the Zone 1 Command of the force, the police failed to follow up with the Sharia Commission in Kano, where the girl was taken to in 2015.
The Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of the zonal command, Shuaibu Gambo, said leaving the state Sharia Commission to handle the case after the Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, referred the matter to the command in August, complicated the situation.
“Indeed, the emir had sent a team of the Sharia commission members, Ese family and the abductor to our office in August.
“And my predecessor, AIG Tambari Yabo, confirmed the receipt of the letter, as well as the team, from the monarch.
“But after meeting them, and realizing it was late, he directed that they come back the following morning.
One of such persons, who felt that there is need for further clarification was the former minister of aviation Femi Fani-Kayode, who described the whole scenario in his opinion article, as clearly a conspiracy of silence about the perpetuation of evil in this country amongst the ruling elite.
According to him, the feeling is that anyone can get away with anything providing they belong to a particular circle and class, and providing they have money and power.
“All those that are attempting to distort the narrative about the tragic plight of Miss Ese Oruru are evil and we commit them to God’s judgement,” Fani -kayode wrote.
Before now, the most notorious and widespread abductions of children in Africa during the last four decades of the twentieth century, have been closely associated with armed conflict in such countries as Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Uganda, among others.
Then abduction was largely a function of pervasive poverty, large demands for child labor, and the huge profits to be made by child-marketers created a massive trade in African children within and outside of Africa.
Less visible but more persistent and equally deleterious, child abductions thrive in the context of a host of sociocultural practices.
Also during the pre-colonial Africa, large-scale abductions of children occurred in the course of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries in West Africa, and in the eastern and central African Arab-Swahili slave trade, which peaked in the nineteenth century.
In both cases, children were sold into slavery to lands beyond the continent. Traders created intricate conduits for conveying abducted populations from the interior to the coastal trading houses. Perpetrators included individual traders, brokers, royal houses, and European partners, the latter stationed at the coast.
Additionally, localized ethnic conflicts produced limited and intermittent abductions of children as war hostages during the pre-colonial period.
The common practice was to integrate the children into the families and social structures of their captors. The children were looked upon as additional social capital vital for productive and reproductive activities.
There was also the practice of abducting child brides, which evolved beyond customary sanction and has increasingly, attracted greater attention in judicial circles. There is also an emerging phenomenon of infant abductions traced to desperate childless women.
Children of unsuspecting mothers in hospitals and crowded townships become easy targets of such desperate women. It appears also that there is a market for abducted children among childless women who feign motherhood upon returning to their homes.
Elsewhere, amidst political instability and the emergence of religious cults, there are reports of child abductions associated with ritual sacrifice. Whether the children are targeted for their innocence, and hence ritual purity, for their vulnerability, or as vital social capital, adults, in their efforts to transact political, economic, or social-religious contracts, brutalize children.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, civil wars constitute the single major cause of child abduction in Africa. The scale, complexity, and brutality of modern, armed conflict-related child abductions dwarf the pre-colonial situation by far.
Both rebel forces and governments perpetrate the abductions.
Abducted children serve as domestics, porters, messengers, and general camp followers. Girls, some as young as ten, become sex slaves for the soldiers. Boys, and some girls, are forced to perform armed combat duties.
While internal pre-colonial abductions sought to integrate their victims into the captors’ society, modern abductions seek to isolate, separate, brutalize, and intimidate the children into malleable errand boys and girls. Thus, in addition to being forced into regular combat, abducted children are also forced to commit rape, torture, and killings, sometimes directed at fellow children.
This serves as initiation into a life of violence, and serves as warning of what will befall them should they become recalcitrant, or try to run away.
In order to elicit and sustain such criminal responses from the children, some captors are reported to drug the children. Thus children become both perpetrators and victims of violence.
Present-day concentration of settlement has made children more vulnerable to abductions.According to a women’s right activist, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, a continued abduction of young children in Nigeria is a direct reflection of lack of enforcement of laws, particularly the Child Right Act.
“Ordinarily, if the law has been made effective by the Federal Government and the various states that have domesticated the Child Right Act, every potential perpetrator, would have known the consequences of their action and this would have deterred a lot of them from violating the rights of our children,” she said.
Odumakin, who is also the President, Women Arise for Change Initiative and the Campaign for Democracy, advised parent to attach more importance to the protection of their children.
“Parents should avoid such situations that expose the children to several dangers in the society, even beyond their being abducted.”
A child protection specialist, Taiwo Akinlami blamed the incidents on the lack the foresight by the African leaders.
He said they are not proactive enough in addressing many issues, particularly as they concern our children, their development, safety and security, both as primary caregivers, who provide preliminary and leading care and secondary caregivers, who provide institutional and other kinds of care, particularly as institutions of learning.
“It is our culture to neglect the signs of the time, to hope for the best, where common sense demands that we carefully assess a situation and act fast; to pray for divine intervention where spiritual consciousness demands that we watch and engage the limitless ingenuity of our God-given minds; to prefer the uncertainty of cure to the predictability of prevention.”
He called for the careful public review or probe of the circumstances leading to the kidnapping of children, with a view to using the probe as a template for preventing abduction in the future.
For the former President of the Lawyers Group Amnesty International Nigeria and Director Constitutional Watch, AhamNjoku, there is need to try anybody, who took part in child’s abduction as a co- conspirator with the principal accused person, especially, when it is established that the abductee is a minor.
According to him, the present situation where the Police try to shield those found to have collaborated with the child abduction as revealed by Ese and Patience case should not be allowed if the trend is to be checked.
Similarly, the Lagos State Coordinator, Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), Mrs. Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi was of the view that the trend can well be checked if the child rights Acts is replicated in all the states in Nigeria.
Her submission was anchored on the fact that the application of the act, which forbids child marriages will serve as deterrent to prospective abductors.
Apart from the child right acts, Vivour- Adeniyi also called on state government to establish child protection services as well as ensure proper sex education of the children.
“Children, who had knowledge of sex education, she argued, would be able to withstand certain pressures from the opposite sex.”
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