Nearly 200 young girls and teens are still missing after being kidnapped in Nigeria, and now families are hearing news that is simultaneously good but alarming. The good news is that their loved ones are still alive. The alarming part? They have now been “married” off to their captors and have been shipped out of the country.
According to All Africa, the girls have been taken to Cameroon and Chad, after Boko Haram members who had kidnapped them sold them to other sect members, who then held a wedding ceremony to sanctify the arrangement. “They ferried them in canoes to Cameroon and Chad republic after they were wedded off to Boko Haram members who bidded (sic) and paid N2,000 each as dowries on their heads,” a local elder told the press. ”The dowry was paid to their captors, the very people who abducted them from their school. One of them who married one of the girls took her to a border town close to Cameroon where villagers saw her.”
The Guardian also reports of the marriages, with one source stating: “We have heard from members of the forest community where they took the girls. They said there had been mass marriages and the girls are being shared out as wives among the Boko Haram militants.”
The “marriages,” as they stand, appear to simply be human trafficking arrangements, with girls stolen from their schools, sold and now forced into sexual relationships under the guise of marriage. Sadly, this is probably more commonplace than we probably know. As Jina Moore writes at Buzzfeed, there is a growing trend of countries that see marriage, even for minors, as an act that somehow undoes or erases sexual assault, with a push even to marry off victims to their assailants as a way of eliminating the crime.
In Sri Lanka, as Moore reports, the debate isn’t whether minors who have been victims of rape, especially statutory rape, but whether they should be allowed to be married to those rapists before they turn 18, the age of consent. The debate, according to Moore, is unfolding as if the girl in question would desire that marriage. “The idea is to ensure the victim gets justice. If she feels the rapist must marry her for what he did to her, then she must have that option,” Moore quotes a local official explaining.
The question, of course, is why would a young girl feel a rapist “must marry her” as a consequence of the crime? Sadly, the likely reason would be that she may worry that as someone who had sex outside of marriage, be it consensual or not, that she may have no other marriage options available. As a byproduct of that sex act, her future may be completely limited.
As Moore mentions, there are a number of countries that believe that marrying your rapist is the “solution” after a sexual assault, as well as a number — some of them overlapping — which think that there can be no such thing as marital rape. Even here in the U.S., that mindset is only slightly at bay. Republican Congressional candidate Dick Black has said on the record that he believes spousal rape can’t exist because after all she may be “wearing a nightie.” At this point next year, he could be representing the state of Virginia in the House.
Nor are we far removed from the belief that once a girl has had sex she is ruined, either. Elizabeth Smart courageously spoke out about her experience being kidnapped and subjected to sexual assault, and how because of the abstinence only education she received, she felt she was “used” and didn’t feel she was fit to be back in society, which stopped her from escaping her captor.
Perceptions about girls when it comes to assault, sex and marriage seem far away and foreign when we read about situations like Nigeria or Sri Lanka, but our own culture already shows elements that are shockingly similar. For now, marrying a rapist as a means of erasing or making up for a sexual assault seems unthinkable. Let’s hope it continues to stay that way here, and work on changing that abroad.
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