08/17/2022 Nigeria (International Christian Concern) – Child grooming is becoming more prevalent in Nigeria due to the government’s refusal to protect Christian girls. Though the legal age of consent has traditionally taken second place to what is perceived as the parents’ right to marry their daughters when they please, Nigeria is beginning to feel the global pushback against child marriage.
Still, Nigeria’s Muslim population is resistant to the coming change. Today, 16% of Muslim girls are married before they turn fifteen. That number is as high as 48% in the predominantly Muslim north of the country. In 2013, Nigeria’s Senate rejected a recommendation that would standardize the national legal age of consent to eighteen years in all cases by abolishing exemptions for Muslim and traditional communities. The senators argued that the law would discriminate against Muslim girls, considered “of age” when married.
For child brides, that decision rests with their parents. The issue of child marriage in Nigeria is also an issue of religious freedom since in cases where a Christian girl is kidnapped, indoctrinated, and forcefully married by her Muslim captors, other Muslims often justify the incident on religious grounds. Underage marriage is a problem across Nigeria, but it is particularly problematic for Christians in the north, where state governments often refuse to protect Christian families from abuse. As a result, Christians in Nigeria’s north have lost the right to security for their children.
The following is an excerpt from a letter written by Anna Nimmyel, a Christian woman living in Kaduna state, Nigeria. Anna is a single mother of a 16-year-old girl named Grace. Over two months ago, Grace was kidnapped by a Muslim man named Mallam Abdulra’ub. For 17 days, Anna did not hear from her daughter until the kidnapper finally called to inform her that Grace had been forcibly converted to Islam.
She contacted the police, who detained Mallam but only required him to spend one night in a police cell and was released without bail. Grace was detained in jail for seven days but was ultimately returned to her kidnapper. She still hasn’t returned to her mother, with the Kaduna State Interfaith Office, which is handling the case, saying that they cannot return the girl to her mother since she is now of a different religion.
Concerning her appeal to authorities to get her daughter back, Anna writes, “As, at the time of writing this petition, the girl is in the custody of an Islamic cleric to live with him as directed by Kaduna Interfaith under the guise that they cannot force the girl to go back to her mother since she refused to. I cried and pleaded on my knees with the police and Interfaith that they should please hand over my daughter as I do not have an issue with the girl having a different religion. I told them the girl is my only child and is all I have in this world, but my plea was not acknowledged.”
Anna went on to cite sections of the Nigerian constitution that are supposed to protect minors, including Section 29(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended), which defines a minor as anyone below the age of 18 years old.
The Nigerian constitution defines the separation of a minor from their parents as a crime. In her letter, Anna calls out the Nigerian police and Kaduna State’s Interfaith office for their handling of the case and refusal to reunite Anna with her daughter.
Please pray for Anna, her daughter, and the many other young women who have suffered a similar fate.
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