Members of the Becheve tribe located in Southern Nigeria have been engaging in an age-old practice called “money marriage.”
The BBC filmed the plight of girls as young as six who are given to older men as a payment of debt. At the age of 10, she is considered eligible to become a full-fledged money wife.
Girls married into money marriages have no rights. They are denied education and overall respect. They are even the last ones fed in a household.
Some men who marry these young girls opt to sell them to be used for child labor and prostitution.
Money marriages are usually performed to settle a debt or as a sign of high status within the community; the more “wives” he obtains, the wealthier the man is perceived to be. Subsequent children born within the money marriage are the property of the purchaser. In ordinary marriages, children born within the constraints of that union can be given to the maternal grandparents.
Dorothy is a money wife who was sold to her husband, Pa Phillips before she reached 12 years of age.
Dorothy said in the BBC documentary that she was pinned down by three men and one woman while her “husband” raped her. Consequently, she became pregnant.
Despite money marriages being outlawed in Nigeria, Pastor Akonam Richards, a child’s right’s activist insisted that the practice is still going on. However, Sunday Ichile, the leader of the Becheve people told the BBC that money marriages were no longer being performed.
Richards stated that he recently rescued a 7-year-old girl from the arrangement. He has received death threats and has been harassed because of his willingness to speak out against the act.
Another little girl called Happiness was sold as a money wife because her grandmother needed the money to pay to remove curses from her family. The grandmother said selling Happiness and another grandchild was the only option she had at the time. Happiness is now 14-years-old and still married.
She recalled the experiences she’s endured in her marriage. In one instance, her husband told her that he could kill her and no one could say anything because she was his property.
Each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18 and if the current trends continue, the number of girls who marry as children will reach 1.2 billion by 2050, warns Girls Not Brides, a global organization committed to ending child marriage.
Girls who marry as children are often not able to achieve their full potential, as they leave school early, suffer domestic violence and do not get access to proper healthcare. Some even die during pregnancy and childbirth as a result of complications because their bodies are not ready.
Despite these facts, several African countries continue to allow the practice to happen.
Niger is the country with the highest rate of child marriages in the world. Recent research by the International Centre for Research on Women and the World Bank indicated that ending child marriage in Niger could save the country more than $25 billion. However, many girls are still married and this has been attributed mainly to poverty. For some, having a child marry early is aimed at upholding social and religious traditions.
In the Central African Republic, child marriages, lack of access to education and female genital mutilation are some serious issues plaguing the country. Families are forced to offer young girls in exchange for safety from sexual harassment and violence.
In Chad, child marriages are practised amongst the elite and those living below the poverty line. 68 percent of Chadian girls are married before the age of 18.
Watch the documentary below: