Monday 7 July 2014

Nigeria: My plea for Wasilu Umar, the 14-year old bride

On crime and punishment
Murder is never a good thing, the victim having lost their life and the perpetrator having committed a heinous crime which by all standards of justice should be punished.
Whilst homicide should be adequately punished to reflect the crime, I have never been an advocate of capital punishment. I do not subscribe to the old Mosaic Law concept of an eye for an eye.
If ever I were in a position to plead for mitigation, it would be to temper justice with mercy, asking for a level of compassion that appreciates the gravity of offence but a lenience that would be both instructive and reformative of the perpetrator.
Yet, I would make an exception, on the matter of mercy for child sex abusers, whilst I would never go as far as advocating state-sponsored mutilation, there is nothing that suggests such people should walk our streets freely. No length of incarceration can judiciously expiate for the damage wrought on the innocence of a child whose sexuality and sexual expression has been violated for the inordinate pleasure of an adult.
A child bride is wrong
This brings me to the case in Nigeria of a 14-year old bride, Wasilu Umar, who is to be charged with culpable homicide punishable by death for poisoning her 35-year old husband along with, unfortunately three other males aged 12, 13 and 25 respectively, besides the 10 others who survived, though after needing hospital treatment.
So many things do not sit right with this case which needs to be scrutinised without emotion. The first issue is, why is a 14-year old a bride? That ought not to be so, that she was pressed into this liaison by her father is both unfortunate and really, putting all religious sentiment aside, cruel and criminal.
Then, she was married off to a 35-year old; this sort of shameful and reprehensible conduct needs to be expunged from our society and anything that gives licence to this kind of culture needs to be excoriated in the sternest terms.
Betrothal maybe, but never marriage
There might be scope for betrothal, but marriage must come much later, at the minimum, it should be the age of maturity, at 18 years, for instance, and it should be only be sanctioned where all parties have the full rights to consent to such a union. The girl, there are no two ways about it - a female of 14 years of age is NOT a woman, she is a girl and should not be made into a woman regardless of societal privations for the sexual proclivities of a patriarchy that cares little about the welfare of the girl-child.
The unfortunate situation of marrying off a girl to someone who could easily be her father thereby putting the life of 14 souls at risk, 4 people dead already, bears the hallmarks of a serial killer, 14 people would have been carnage unspeakable, but we must never absent our minds from the cause and we must not be blinded from the truth.
Slavery is the name
The next question is why a 14-year old girl has to cater for 14 people, whilst extended families are attributes of the Nigerian culture and many including children have to play their part within the family, the idea that a girl has to cook for or serve 14 people smacks of that forgettable word called slavery.
That any society would accept and condone such because I do not think this girl is an exception is contemptible, it needs to be addressed with urgency, it is abuse, it is vile and there must be instruments to elevate the rights of a child beyond being sentenced with juvenile marriages contracted for the purpose of submitting the girl to an abysmally cruel life of servitude in the kitchen and in the bedroom.
Society must reflect on what to do
Then the next question is, should she be punished for the crime? There should be a punishment, but it should not be capital punishment. For the innocent lives lost, there is no clear indication as to whether the girl at 14 really knew what the consequences of her actions would be. There is a case also for pleading her innocence due to diminished responsibility.
We may not be able to apply the first world aspirations of a happy marriage to this situation, it was anything, but happy. Much was asked of this girl well beyond her abilities that those responsible must carry a share of the blame. Her father first, her husband, now deceased, and the society or community that celebrated this or turned a blind eye until bodies began to fall into graves.
Most of all, what the girl needs is rehabilitation, the decision to make an example of her is a sad reflection of a society unwilling to stand for right and stand for the emancipation of the girl-child. The greater absurdity to this matter is how this society automatically ascribes womanhood to a girl the moment some dirty old man takes her for a wife.
Protect the girl
In essence, the girl is being tried as an adult. I am saddened by this development, I hope that better judgement prevails to give the girl another chance to grow out of childhood into womanhood with all the opportunities girls of that age are supposed to have – some freedom to be a child, the latitude to be an adolescent and the right to a decent education.
I cannot suggest that they send the girl home because there is where her problems started, but she does have to be sent somewhere where her life, her rights and her freedoms are fought for vigorously and protected by every means possible.
This charge of culpable homicide punishable by death is by all standards a shameful societal regression that must never be countenanced.

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