Thursday, June 20, 2024

Nigerian mass wedding for orphaned girls provokes outcry

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A mass wedding for 100 girls orphaned by attacks in Nigeria has prompted an outcry amid concerns that some of the brides may be underage, or being forced to marry for money.

The ceremony, supported by a local politician, has been condemned by the national women’s affairs minister, who has threatened an injunction to stop the nuptials.

Abdulmalik Sarkindaji, the speaker of the local assembly in north-west Niger state, said the wedding was to help constituents who had all lost relatives to attacks on villages by heavily armed gangs.

Mr Sarkindaji has since distanced himself from the wedding and has said the families must decide among themselves, but local clerics have said it should still go ahead next week.

Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, the federal women’s affairs minister, called the ceremony unacceptable and demanded an investigation into the ages of the brides and whether they had consented to marriage.

She said: “I have written a petition to the police … and I have filed a case for an injunction to stop him from whatever he is planning to do.”

‘Let children be children’

Abiodun Essiet, the president’s senior special assistant on community engagement, also objected.

She said: “I am not against conducting marriage for orphans above 18 years of age if they give their consent to the marriage.

“But I am against under-aged marriage. Let children be children.”

Mass weddings are not uncommon in Nigeria, especially in the mostly Muslim north, where they are seen as a way to help impoverished families manage their expenses.

But underage marriage also happens in rural areas where communities struggle with poverty, insecurity and little access to education.

No details were immediately available on the ages of the orphans.

All wedding expenses paid

In January this year, Muktar Aliyu Betara, another Nigerian politician from Borno state, sponsored a mass wedding for 180 girls from his constituency.

The 17 and 18-year-old girls had lost their parents to jihadist violence.

Mr Betara paid for all the wedding expenses as the families of the brides could not afford the costs.

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