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Abolishing Money Marriage In Becheve: Saving the Girl-Child

By Efa Sunday

It is a nightmare to hear of how Africans sold our grandparents into slavery to the colonial master in exchange for mirrors, hard drinks, hair combs, khaki shorts, short-sleeved shirts, and so many other irrelevant items.

Africans sighed a sigh of relief, knowing that this barbaric post-modern day slavery had been abolished and also completely eradicated, except of course the neo-colonialism subtly ongoing to date.

But, what if you were told that broad-day slavery is still ongoing to date in a state in Nigeria, would you believe it? Sadly, that is the hard reality.

Becheve, a local village in Obanliku Local Government Area of Cross River State, Nigeria is still practising modern-day slavery in the form of "Child Marriage." Child Marriage or Okeh- Ingolis is a practice where females are given in forced marriage in exchange for food items and debt settlement by their fathers.

Many individuals including government officials, and most recently, the wife of the incumbent Governor of Cross River State, Rev. Mrs. Eyoawan Bassey Otu have made policy statements and tried taking actions to abolish the barbaric traditions, but I dare to say that the tradition has continued unabated.

From personal findings, over 500 females, including more than 50 sucklings have been given out to older men in marriage between 1999 to 2024.  Over 17 villages under Becheve community with a population of about 150,000 still currently practice girl-child/ money marriage.

This primitive practice has continued unabated because highly placed individuals in government and positions of authority are culprits and the number of wives a man has in these communities signifies the level of his affluence and wealth, no wonder, all State Government interventions have not been positive. 

Girl children given out in forced marriage are denied numerous opportunities, from education to child-rearing at a tender age, to not having enough of their childhood experience. Sometimes, their older husbands subject them to primitive health care systems, rigorous farming lifestyles, to physical abuse and torture.

In an exclusive discussion with the Paramount Ruler of Obanliku LGA, HRM, Uchua Amos Item, called for the abolition of what he called "ancient practice." HRM equally appealed to the Governor and security agencies to join forces with him to abolish the tradition. 

But beyond words of mouth and appeal, it appears as though there is no sincerity on the part of all stakeholders involved to once-and-for-all extinct this primitivistic reality ongoing in the 21st century in Cross River State.

And why did I say that? These traditional rulers know these people who are still currently giving out these innocent girls in marriage to older men, why haven't they been named and handed over to the police for investigation and onward prosecution, if found guilty? 

The State House of Assembly needs to pass a law to eradicate such practice and bring to book any offender. Also, there is a need for the State Governor to as a matter of urgent importance, release an Executive Order to immediately abolish such acts of wickedness.

Money-marriage or girl-child forced marriage is modern-day slavery and should be condemned in its entirety, but beyond this, I want to see parents face prosecution for taking away the fundamental human rights of their daughters even before they were grown enough to make decisions, as well as, arrest and prosecute the men currently buying these females in advance for marriage.

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