AFTER one year of legal mishmash, Wasila Umar, regained her freedom: she allegedly killed her husband, his three friends, and injured others. She was 14. Wise men in her community in Gaya Local Government Area of Kano State found her a husband.
Tragedy struck 17 days into her forced marriage. Wasila reportedly poisoned the food she served her husband – she wanted her freedom. She did not reckon with the camaraderie her community shares during meal times. Her husband’s friends who ate the food were also victims of the poison.
Her story is pathetic and reflects a revolt of children in forced marriages. Their guardians think they have no opinion, but they have. Wasila wanted education; nobody listened to her.
“I have never enjoyed the opportunity of going to Islamic school or acquiring Western education. My father forced me into this mess by stubbornly forcing me into a relationship I was not prepared to live in,” she said of the marriage to her 35-year-old husband, Sani.
Kano State Police Command Public Relations Officer, ASP Magaji Musa Majia, had then said, “The case has been referred to appropriate authorities for the next line of action. I am assuring you that Wasila would appear in court soon because we have limitation on the number of days we can keep a suspect no matter the perceived weakness of the case or the personality involved”.
Wasila, who confessed to the crime, became dramatic in court. She was incoherent after the charges were read. Pressure mounted on the Kano State Government to free her. The trial continued.
Section 29 (4) (a) of the 1999 Constitution, states, “full age” means the age of eighteen years and above; (b) any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.” Those who married off Wasila at 14 broke the law. The law did not punish them.
The Child’s Rights Act of 2003 prohibits child marriages and betrothals. In Section 21, any marriage contracted by anyone less than 18 years is invalid. Under Section 22: “(1) No parent, guardian or any other person shall betroth a child to any person”. Both provisions are in the Criminal and Penal Codes, though they are hardly enforced.
Wasila’s belated release does not amount to obedience of the law. She should not have been married in the first place, being a child. How would she cope with the trauma of her ordeal? Would the State provide the professional care she needs?
What happens to millions of other endangered children, some in similar marriages and others destined for them? Wasila, tragically, gave them a voice. We should not wait for another Wasila to free our children.