May 24, 2010

Beyond Religion

I want to highlight a news story that has fallen off the news radar in recent days but is still worthy of attention in my opinion.

A few weeks ago a disturbing news story broke in Nigeria. A 49-year-old Nigerian senator, Sani Yerima, had allegedly married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl. According to sources, he traveled to Egypt, paid $100K to her family, and brought her to Nigeria where a wedding ceremony was performed. This man apparently has a penchant for marrying children because he allegedly did the same in 2006 with a 15-year-old.

Under Nigeria’s Child Right Act of 2003 the marriage or betrothal of a person under the age of 18 is forbidden, and carries a N500,000 fine or a five year jail term. Egypt also has a minimum age of marriage at 18. Furthermore, he faces trafficking human charges for the manner in which he brought this child into his country.

When questioned on this matter, the distinguished Senator declared “I have not done anything that violates Sharia, so I am not bothered about anything if anybody accuses me and I don’t think I have committed any offence”. Yerima is, as others have, using religion to justify his actions when he is in fact committing a crime.

If one can get past his self-serving religious argument, a larger picture emerges – the use of power and position to satisfy base appetites and desires. He quite obviously exploited his position as a rich man to procure a child wife for a handsome amount of money. This is symptomatic of unequal power and the disparities that exist between the haves and the have-nots in our societies.

Unfortunately it is not uncommon to hear of poor families marrying off young daughters in exchange for money, land or other items of monetary value to older, wealthier men. This is where much work is still needed in the fight against poverty, the entrenching of stronger rights for women and children, and education about health hazards faced by children given into marriage such as obstetric fistula.

Yerima should not be allowed to turn this into an argument about his choice to practice religion freely. He is an unapologetic paedophile, and should face consequences for his actions. Child abuse is hard enough to eradicate when it so often happens behind a veil of secrecy and shame but when someone flagrantly flaunts it in public like this, action is needed!

I unequivocally support the female Nigerian senators and their allies who are pursuing this matter. 

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