BARBARIC: TUNDE ONAKOYA MOVES TO SAVE GIRLS SOLD INTO MARRIAGE AS “MONEY WIVES” IN CROSS RIVER STATE

Cross River State is one of the States in Nigeria that has adopted the Child’s Right Act 2003 through the passing of the Child Rights Law 2009. Yet, reports from the region tend to suggest that we have failed the gild-child in some parts of the State. 

Tunde Onakoya is a popular Nigerian chess master, coach and founder of Chess in Slums Africa. He has organized a number of interventions for children across slums in Lagos State. In a series of tweets through his verified handle, Mr. Onakoya takes us to Cross River State where girls are condemned to one of the most wicked cultural practices the world has ever heard of.

Read excerpts below:

Money Wife Custom

There’s a barbaric tradition known as “Money Wife” in a remote village in Cross River State called Becheve where girls as young as 10-years-old are being sold into marriage… The Becheve tribe of Obanliku LGA in Cross River State is made up of 17 villages all of which practice the Money Wife tradition. It’s located just beyond the famous Obudu hills with a population of about 100,000 people. The Money Wife is a custom in which a girl child in the community is sold out to a man by her parents as a wife in exchange for money as little as 5,000 naira (10 dollars), food items, or to pay a debt. 

How it works

How it really works is that a “rich” man in the village is approached for a loan that is to be repaid by handing over a daughter to him. In the case of the unavailability of a daughter, the lender waits till they have one. So most debts are incurred before the girl-child is born. This practice ensures that once a girl becomes a Money Wife, she is considered dead by her family and must not return irrespective of how she is treated by her husband or his relatives. It gets worse… Upon the death of the man (in most cases, the girls are married off to old men in their 60-90s), the girl is given to his next of kin as a wife. If the money wife dies without having a child, her parents are obligated by tradition to give another girl child as replacement. The girl is surrendered to the lender as a wife to use as he pleases. The girl will have no rights and her opinion is not sought in the matter as she is practically enslaved and put to work on farms which they cultivate for their husbands. She is not allowed to get an education. The men in Becheve cherish this practice as a status symbol as it earns them acclaim amongst their peers.

Consequences

According to Mr. Onakoya, “for the innocent girls, their entire childhood is stolen from them and their existence reduced to being mere sex slaves. The physical and psychological trauma that these girls have to face is something we can never fully understand… A lot of girls have lost their lives during childbirth and many currently live with obstetric and vesicovaginal fistula…”

Some of the victims

According to Mr. Onakoya, girls as young as 5-15 years old were already married or sold to men old enough to be their grandfathers. There were a lot of 14-18 year old girls who had kids already.

Faith – now a 20-years-old with 3 children. Abandoned by her husband and now left to fend for herself and children… All she ever wanted was to go to school and become a nurse.

Dorathy – now 27-years-old with 6 children and a life filled with pain and extreme suffering. She had her first child at the age of 13… She had contemplated committing suicide a few times but needed to stay alive to take care of her children.

Goodness – 9-years-old but could read and speak English fluently. She had to drop out of school recently and has been sold as a Money Wife to an old man from a neighboring village. It is only a matter of time before he comes to claim his “property”. 

Practical steps to save the girls

Mr. Onakoya observed that “ending child marriage in communities like this is a very delicate subject that could worsen the experience of the victims if you sell them false hope of saving them without considering a holistic approach to intervening…” He noted that “a few organizations, NGOs and civil societies in the past have tried to advocate for these girls, there was even a BBC documentary sometime in 2018 spotlighting this barbaric act of child abuse, but sadly very little has changed.” According to him, the barbaric culture is all rooted in poverty:

The Money Wife practice in Becheve is a cultural issue that is so deeply ingrained in poverty and can only be challenged from within the system. Outsiders attempt to intervene, but are hindered by a cultural ideology.

Below is his action plan:

1. We’re creating a Database for women between the ages of 18-40 who are money wives and already have kids. We are going to pair them up with a support system of female mentors where they can get monthly stipends to support their farming business. We are going to put out a form for people to apply to be female mentors for these women. You will have to commit time to speak to them monthly so they know they’re not alone in this world.

2. We have selected 50 girls between the ages of 5-18 who are Money Wives across all the Becheve villages and we will camp them in Ugbakoko for two weeks to teach them chess, mentor them and create a safe space where they can talk about their ordeals. We’ll also need to partner with organizations leading the advocacy to end gender based violence and early child marriage in remote communities. Please send email to: hello@chessinslumsafrica.com

3. In our time in the community, we will go from house to house to educate the families about this barbaric act and do our best to eradicate this primitive mindset amongst the young men and the families selling their daughters.

4. We will partner with financial institutions to offer loans to the people of Becheve as an alternative to using their daughters as collateral. Poverty and high levels of illiteracy is the major culprit here.

5. The local school in the community is dilapidated. We will renovate it and place all the girls on educational scholarship support. We will also partner with other schools around and get as many girls as possible back to school.

6. We will host a chess tournament and community event at the end of the 2 weeks training camp so the girls can showcase their talents to the entire community. We will invite all community leaders and villagers so they can come watch the girls show intellectual prowess.

7. We will make sure all the village heads commit and sign to a law that criminalizes the Money Wife tradition in Becheve and get the police to enforce this law.

8. We will set up a permanent training Centre (Safe Space) in the community where the girls can continue to learn chess, introduce them to a world of technology and build a library where they can read new books and learn about the world beyond the confines of Becheve.

9. We will renegotiate the deals for the money wives under the age of 18 and pay back the debt their families owe to the lender.

10. We will do all of these things whilst simultaneously running a global campaign to end child marriage in Africa.

It is time to do great things from a small place

You can donate to this project here: 

0491316991 Gtbank

Chess in slums initiative.

If you’re outside Nigeria, you can donate through Go Fund Me.



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