In Abakaliki, Ezza South, Onicha and Ohaozara local government areas of Ebonyi State, child marriage, child labour, rape and other forms of violence have become a norm with many adolescent girls falling victims, which has upturned their lives. But some of these adolescent girls have been very courageous resisting the pressure from their parents who are in most cases the ones encouraging their girls’ children or forcing them into child marriages. Uchenna Favour, an SS3 student is one of those who boldly refused to marry a 32-yearold man her parents packaged for her.
The 16-year-old girl from Umueziukwu, Onicha Igboeze in Onicha Local Government Area of the state was 15 last year and was in SS2 when she had no foodstuff, cream and other things an adolescent girl requires in life. She had no money to buy those things and was helpless. Her parents could not also afford those things for her and even her education was in jeopardy. The solution her parents came up with was to recommend someone to her, an engineer who was always coming close to the family as a friend to marry. The said engineer was 32 last year but Favour refused to marry the man despite being rich and capable of taking care of her. New Telegraph saw her at a three-day life skills training for adolescent girls to become change agents towards the elimination of violence against women and girls in Onicha Local Government Area of the state organised by the National Orientation Agency (NOA) with support from EU-UN Spotlight Initiative.
She narrated her experience thus: “Last year, there was a lack of everything in my house; foodstuffs and everything and there was one guy that was very close to my mum, an engineer. He has money and my parents asked me to marry him so that he will be able to help us buy food and my academics. But being that I am still a child I rejected it. “I felt bad about it because the man is far older than me, he was 32 years then and I was 15 years and he was always asking me for sex every time. I decided not marry him because of that sex he was always disturbing me to have with him; it is the main reason I decided not to agree to marry him because I don’t want to engage in such relationship at my tender age. I am urging my fellow young girls not to use it because of hardship, lack of foodstuffs as was my case, and to engage in a relationship or marry in their childhood because it will ruin their future.”
Cause of deaths
Daniel Daberechi, 14, from Okposi Okwu in Ohaozara Local Government Area of the state who is in JSS3 observed that in her community, parents give out their girl children for child marriage which she said has caused deaths of some young girls. She said: “Child marriage is not good because in our community these days, some parents engage their parents in child marriage which is not good for the child health because the child may die in such marriage or contract diseases or have other big problems associated with that type of marriage because she was forced into the marriage. If I see any child that is forced into child marriage, I will report the matter to the appropriate authority.”
There is also ghost marriage in Onicha Local Government. A community leader in the area, Njoku Chinedum, explained it as marrying a wife for a dead man which he said has been in existence in the area. In this community, if a man dies his family will go and marry a young lady or girl for her and in most times, these girls are usually too young to accept real marriage in the first place let alone marrying a dead man who has already been buried. It is a bad culture which must stop,” he said. As a result of the ugly trend, the NOA in the state with the support from the EUUN Spotlight Initiative has started training young adolescent girls in life skills so they will be able to face the problems.
Importance of training
Mrs. Ijeoma Ajanwachukwu, a lawyer with the state’s Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, noted that the training was very important in the lives of the young girls. “The training is very important in the lives of these adolescent girls because there are so many things they don’t know and listening to their questions during the training, you will notice they have these problems but they don’t know how to share it, where to go and the possible response.
But from this programme, they now learnt things about their stage, how to manage their lives and manage others. “Coming to the legal perspective, there are issues. For instance, they were shocked when I said if they are having boyfriends and their boyfriends have sex with them, it is rape and their boyfriends will be imprisoned for life. So, the love won’t even be there because they will not be having their fun or sex or whatever in the prisons and these are facts. And for them being young girls should be very careful,” she stated. She opined that those trained in Abakaliki and Ezza South local government areas of the state have already started making impacts by reporting cases of violence against girls including child abuse, child labour and other forms of violence and that the ministry has prosecuted some of the perpetrators as a result of the reports the trained girls gave the ministry. “In Abakaliki and Ezza South LGAs, the girls we trained there are making great impact in their various communities and I believe the same thing will be felt here in Ohaozara and Onicha local governments. The girls we trained in Ezza South and Abakaliki are reporting and they are handling such cases among their peers. “Some suspects have been prosecuted through these girls we have trained in Ezza South and Abakaliki local governments. I can say about two in Abakaliki and one in Ezza South. They are still in court. One of the cases is child abuse, child labour. It was reported through a peer educator though we didn’t mention her name and we followed it up and the woman was arrested. It’s ongoing. “The other one is the same child abuse; beating children and giving them punishment that is above their age and all that and there are being reported through these peer educators. For instance, the one in Abakaliki was her friend being maltreated by her Aunty to the extent that most times, the woman will drive her out and she will sleep in an uncompleted building. “It was reported to us and that girl has been sent back to her parents and the matter is ongoing, though for lack of witness, it is frustrating because the girl has gone back to her parents and the parents are not ready to release her to come and give evidence. So, these training sessions have helped the girls to fight for their rights and fight for their peers.
Lack of evidence
“Lack of evidence is a very serious matter because for instance, I am a lawyer, I wasn’t there when the incident happened and in court, we need somebody who is there, who witnessed it so that it won’t be hearsay evidence in court. But the issue is that they don’t. “Another problem that we are having, for instance, this peer group reporting, we don’t like to expose them but if we are lucky to arrest the perpetrator of the act, it will help us. But in the case of rape, most parents are not ready to go on with the matter especially cost of litigation. Going to the police has become an issue.”
An Advocate for Child Protection and Gender based Violence, Idara Effiong, who was among those that trained the girls, said: “This training is very impactful, we have impact on young girls in skill training to enable them understand what their rights are and how to uphold these rights and to also be able to understand what child abuse is and how to identify them and also how to stay safe from them. A huge impact has been created through this training. “Talking to young girls from different local governments, we can see that there is this thing about social norms that they hold so dear, believing that a woman should be relegated to the background, believing that child marriages are beneficial to their family. In fact, they believe that child marriage is a source of income to their family but we have been able to impact them with the knowledge of the bad aspect of child marriage.”
UNICEF NOA Desk Officer in the state, Uchenna Unah, said a total of 346 adolescent girls have been trained on life skills in the four local governments of Abakaliki, Ezza South, Onicha and Ohaozara. He noted that the life skills will empower the girls to face different challenges in the society and listed the skills as peer education, peer influence, adolescence sexual reproductive health and rights, STDs, Gender and Gender-Based violence among others.