Why, for all that is fair and proportional in the world, does a 70-year old man need a 15 year old as new wife?
The story is of a man in Niger state famous for replacing his wives with ease. He is so good at this that his nickname is “Chanji”. His villagers say he has had about 20 wives. He makes sure there are about four in his house at every time.
So the fifteen year old pictured in the story is his latest acquisition. She ticks a number of boxes in his list and is now the newest diamond in his jewelry box. Daily Nigerian, in a moment that they should feel ashamed of, brands her his “sweetheart”.
It may be modesty but she doesn’t look enthralled by the prospect of belonging to this ‘philanthropist’. This man with an arm over her is old enough to have fathered her father; how has she been paired with him, of all men?
She is a child bride. Another, child bride.
In Nigeria, you cannot vote until you are eighteen. There are a number of other things you cannot do till that age. But marriage, for girls, is not considered one of them. This is puzzling.
A wife, theoretically, is a potential mother. She will care for another human being, a role that requires mental maturity, physical well-being and material wherewithal. A girl of 15, despite sexual maturity, is still a child developing physically. She cannot be employed in meaningful well-paying jobs to support her child(ren) when she starts having them (she has barely got any education).
When a young girl has to care for another while still developing herself, there is bound to be a physical and mental toll. Why is this still a difficult argument to make in certain parts of Nigeria?
The biggest opposition remains that girls do not have to work or study; it’s a man’s job to provide and a woman’s to care, cook and clean. And conceive.
But girls are human. At the heart of being human is not child bearing but using one’s rational capacities to connect with the world and one’s Creator. To treat women as though they had no rational capacity is inherently inhuman, an irony given that men who target young girls believe they are getting human beings, not animals.
Child marriage is, to a rational mind, disordered. It is not a partnership, companionship or any other ‘ship’ (for sailing through life’s turbulence together) we associate with normal marriage. It is not two people becoming one. How then do you educate a people to value women for their minds first before their reproductive organs?
It is not impossible to feel affection for much younger women but it is a great test of manliness to keep oneself in check and wait till they become mature enough mentally and physically. Men who become attracted to girls still in their puberty should prove their chivalry and virtue by – ahem – waiting till the girls are older and better prepared to handle the responsibilities of a married relationship. How difficult is that?
Sure enough, poverty plays a role in this. A well-to-do family will not readily give their daughter away to a ‘philanthropic’ septuagenarian unless in desperate need of what the exchange will provide. We are going to need education to change this culture but giving people the means to put food on their tables will put off the pressure to consider suitors like ‘Chanji’.
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