Sometime in the early nineties, the news came flooding the screen and the tabloids. ‘‘A famous ruling of the High court of kano upheld the right of a father to compel his virgin daughter into marriage without her consent and even as she has not attained puberty” supposedly in line with the Maliki School Of Islamic law, which had been invoked by the lower court. One such virgin daughter was Amina Umar [not real name]. At the age of nine, her father married her off to one Mallam Ibrahim Garbar [not real name], a 40-year old cattle dealer to whom he owed money. For two years, she refused to go live with her putative husband, but she was taken to his house when she begun to menstruate at the age of twelve. Still not content to accept her lot, she twice ran away and was forcibly returned. On the third occasion, Mallam Ibrahim pinned her down and chopped off her legs with a poisoned cutlass resulting in her death.
Each time I think about this story eyes well up, igniting the fire of activism in me. Her case represents the large number of teenagers in Northern Nigeria who are married off by their parents to much older men with or without their consent. Such early marriage undermines a number of rights guaranteed by the convention on rights of the child to which Nigeria is a signatory.
Islamic advocates, justify early marriage as necessary for preserving girls’ virginity. Very often, marriage exposes an otherwise healthy, virgin girl to grave health risks such as HIV And VVF.
Child brides of older men are powerless, and face heavy penalties including death if they take any independent action. The death of 12-year old Amina Umar who attempted to leave an unwanted husband is a terrible testimony to the absolute unjustifiable authority of a father and a husband to enforce child marriage in northern Nigeria.
My belief is that everything is possible as long as one puts their heart on it. I decide to embark on a programme to empower young girls and women with the skills needed to take charge of their reproductive health and rights. This idea gave birth to my NGO ‘STELLAMARIS LIFE FOUNDATION’. We make use of community outreaches, seminars, as well as our current bi-annual magazine “YOUTHWATCH’ to reach out to our audience.
My continued search for a wider platform to transmit my voice brought me to “WORLD PULSE’. It would be an absolute shame for stories like this to continue to fall under the radar. My vision is to help bring to limelight those ‘silent voices’. With my story, to give life, hope and courage. With my dedication, to transform many lives for the better.
Her blood was spilled to enable others regain their freedom and I am glad to be a part of this struggle for freedom.
Continue to Rest In Peace Amina and thank you for igniting this fire of activism in me.