Monday, May 12, 2014

#BringBackOurGirls, Child Brides, and Reflection

On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram took credit for the kidnapping of over 200 school-age girls from the town of Chibok, Nigeria. Women who have escaped Boko Haram’s troops in the past claim that women are sold as wives for leaders, for resources, as servants, and to serve as sex slaves. Boko Haram has threatened to sell the girls kidnapped from Chibok as child brides

Social Media

Since that day in April, I have been following the updates. Disappointingly, more girls have been kidnapped and an entire community was ransacked and people murdered by the same group. I have also watched the social media storm that these events have caused. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls and the resurgence of #RealMenDontBuyGirls have been used by individuals and celebrities around the world to bring attention to the plight of these kidnapped girls. It’s inspiring and has kept this topic on the forefront of the global community – and rightfully so.

In no small part to the constant media attention given to Boko Haram’s actions, Nigeria, prone to an insular mindset in terms of governance, has finally relented and accepted the assistance of foreign military aid. Boko Haram is also showing signs of a willingness to negotiate. I cannot comment on their sincerity, but for the hundreds of mothers and fathers waiting for word about their daughters, some hope is better than none at all.

It was Mother’s Day in the United States on May 11th. I thought about those mothers this weekend and my own child bride story. April and May also marked the birthdays of the two human beings that happily lifted me to that exalted state of motherhood. I officially have two teenage sons – three when including my beloved oldest stepson. The same ages as most of the girls that were kidnapped.

I was a child bride

I can remember the road to this point in my life and in my parenthood, and I can remember each year feeling shock at the milestones that seem to pile up. Was it not just last year that they both reached the “double digits.” I can still remember the impact of the realization that my oldest son turned 10 in 2010, when he looked at me in shock and declared, “Oh my god, mom! You were born in the nineteen hundreds!” It was the first time I felt old.

On the 2nd of May, my eldest turned 14, and very soon, he will be starting high school. I will be the mother of a high school student. It was this milestone that was painful because it reminded me of everything I never got to experience.

I know other parents go through these same growing pains. I am not unique in this regard. They go through the hormones, lessons in hygiene, pimples, and the lectures about responsibility and encouraging their fledging adults to think about the future. What is singularly unique in my experience is that my sons are at the ages when my life completely changed. I started dating my ex husband when I was 13 years old, and I started living with him at 14 as his wife - and called by his last name in our church. Those who have been relayed this part of my biography are usually incredulous, disgusted, scandalized, empathetic, or some mixture of all those emotions.

Living in the United States, it was not legal to be his wife, so we kept it a secret. We had an apartment, and I continued to go to high school until I got pregnant. I wanted to do the things the other girls in school were doing, but I couldn't. I had to answer to a husband who was older than I was and be a wife.

I do not regret a thing that led to the creation of my sons. It’s not practical or healthy to make myself a victim. But I know that what happened to me was and is wrong. There are various religious, personal, and painful reasons why I became his wife, but I won’t go too deeply into those details. The bottom line is that I was not prepared to be a wife at 14 any more than my sons are prepared to be husbands or fathers. Those girls in Nigeria --and everywhere there are child brides and child trafficking-- are not prepared for the adult world of marriage, motherhood, and sex.

While my experience was not violent and I was not sold, there are girls all around the world that are pressured, sold, or forced into marriage (or prostitution) before they are old enough to make the decision for themselves. It has to stop. Children are not commodities. Boko Haram can be blamed for the acts of kidnapping, murder, and the destruction of hundreds of lives, but they could not sell these girls if there was not a market. According to GirlsNotBrides.org, approximately 14 million girls are married before the age of 18 around the world. It should not happen.

I hope that shining a spotlight on that dark world will help these girls. If more are saved before they are sold into marriage or sexual slavery because of world intervention, then it will have been worth it. Even those that mock the social media efforts are keeping the cause alive.

Please visit GirlsNotBrides.org for more information on the active efforts to stop child brides and what you can do to help. We can’t all go in with guns blazing to stop a kidnapping, but we can make our voices heard and support legislation to stop child bride marriages and penalize those who are currently in them.