March 28, 2023

I was married off at age 11.

In my village, most of us were married by age 12 to preserve our purity. I am still not sure what that means. I never thought it would happen to me because my parents allowed me to attend school instead of hawking and I loved school alot. In my school nobody made me do extra work because I was a girl. I loved school because I loved coming first and being ahead of the boys in my class. I was in JS2 when my mother started talking about getting me married. I honestly thought she was joking until my uncle brought his friend to our house as my suitor.
My suitor, Malam Faruk was a shoe seller and cobbler in Zaria. He was 42 years old and my parents felt he would make a good husband. I did not understand what they were all talking about. I really did not understand what I would do with a husband. So that’s how malam Faruk started coming to our house with my uncle with wraps of suya and juice from the city. I liked the suya but I didn’t want him to be my husband. He said he had 2 wives and he wanted to make me his third. He said his last daughter was in JS2 like me. He told me that when we got married I would stop going school and bear him beautiful babies. I thought he was mad. I wanted to stay in school and become a nurse. I loved nurses in their immaculate white uniforms and how they had the solution to all problems at the health centre in my village.
I told my parents I didn’t want to get married. I wanted to write my exams and beat the boys in my exams and I wanted to play with my friends.
My mother said those things were for girls not women. She said being married would make me a woman. Well me I didn’t want to be a woman. I liked being a girl. My father said I had had enough education and there is no need for me to continue my education. Despite my protests, a date was set for the wedding. I will never forget that day. I cried and cried. My friend Halima told me that what husbands did to wives was very painful. She said her sister bled to death after she was taken to her husband’s room. I was scared. I believed I was going to meet my death in Malam Faruk’s room.
On my wedding day, I was in tears while my mother was full of smiles. I really could not understand what was happening. I consoled myself that I would just go through the ceremony and on Monday I would go to school.
That Monday never came. My first night was a terrible experience for me. After our uwargida bathed me and poured perfume on my body, she escorted me to Malam Faruk’s room. He came into the room. I was shaking like a leaf. I was scared but I knew I had to fight for my life or I would die in his room. He ordered me to take off my clothes and I refused. He said he wanted to see my breasts. I told him I didn’t have breasts. I was 11, which nonsense breast did this man think I had? My uncle must have lied to him. But he didn’t like my reply and came towards me to undress me. I fought him off as hard as I could becauseNi ba yar iska ba Ceand he wanted to do iskanci with me. I fought with all my might. I can still remember the smell in that room. The way he nearly broke my arms. The way he fought me like an equal till my strength was finished. The way he tore my dress and raped me. The piercing pain. The way I was so weak I couldn’t even move. I just lay there and cursed my parents for letting this man do this to me. I waited for death to come.
It didn’t come. In the morning my husband sent his wives to take and clean me up. As they cleaned me in the dirty bathroom asked them if this was how they were married too and none of them answered me. They all had sad expressions on their faces. They looked like they pitied me but were afraid to talk to me.
All they said to me was that I was now a woman. I should stop asking too many questions like a little girl. I should behave like a woman and not fight my husband in his room. Our eldest wife, Maimuna said:
“Any woman that refuses to allow her husband enjoy her will end up in hellfire. Any woman that fights her husband because he wants to enjoy her will end up in hellfire. Any woman who talks back to her husband will end up in hellfire. Any woman that asks her husband too many questions will end up in hellfire. Fatima you are now a woman. Don’t behave as if you are a little girl again, you hear! I don’t want you to end up in hellfire”
I quickly learnt that anything we did to displease our husband was going to lead us to hellfire. Our husband was of the Izala Sect and he took his beliefs to very extreme levels.
We were not allowed to go out. We had to wear niqab if we were outside our rooms or in the courtyard. We were not allowed to talk to each other a lot. Especially in his absence. If he was beating you, you couldn’t fight back, because fighting back will land you in hellfire. You could only apologise for your offence and say thank you. We were not allowed any male visitors even if they were our fathers or brothers. When leaving for the market, Malam Faruk would lock all our individual rooms because he said Allah ordered all believing women to stay in their rooms. We had food but we couldn’t go to hospitals because he said it was a place of sin and hell dwellers. Whenever any of us was ill, it wasFatiha kafa bakwaispit into a cup of water and mentholatum. No hospital.
I got pregnant and I honestly did not understand what was happening to my body. I was changing always and it seemed my body was stretching itself. My small belly was struggling to stretch itself to accommodate the growth inside me and my skinny legs couldn’t support me. I was always sick and mostly confused during my first pregnancy. I kept praying for death. I prayed to die with my pregnancy or while giving birth so that I would get to heaven and not hell.
And really while I was in labour I kept saying Alhamdulillah because I was sure God had answered my prayer. The pain was so much I thought I was going to die. I was in labour, locked in my room with my co wives speaking to me through the walls until Malam Faruk came home. My co wives helped me and I delivered a baby boy. I was very disappointed that I had not died. Now what will I do with this baby?
I wasn’t allowed to go home for the customary wankan jego but my mother came to take care of me. She told me there was something wrong with my baby. He was always sick with a fever and he cried incessantly. I really did not care. I didn’t feel any attachment to the baby, despite his being named after my father. I just wanted to die.
I told my mother of all my ordeals hoping she would take me away, but she refused.
“No daughter of mine will be abazawara(divorcee). God Forbid! You must stay in your home and learn to be patient with your husband and adapt to his ways. You will not disgrace me by leaving your husband! You better forget about school and face your marriage, especially now that you are a mother”
I decided to accept my fate. My cowives seemed to have abandoned anything outside their husband so I joined them. Our children were not allowed to stay with us beyond 2 years. After weaning he took them to his mother where they attend Islamiyyaa soron gidansu. They did not go to school or learn a trade. They just learnt Islamic education. Maimuna told me that 4 of her daughters were married with children. She told me she was 30 years old. She told me that her cousin in Kano had a scholarship program tried to get Malam Faruk to enrol her daughters into school but he refused and gave her a brutal beating. She said she gave up after that.
My other co wife, Kamila was 18 years at the time and she had never had a child that stayed alive more than 8 months. Malam Faruk said she was possessed by jinns and they killed her babies. He gave her regular beatings to banish the demonic jinns within her. She was always confused and spoke to herself a lot.
When my son was weaned, malam Faruk asked me to resume matrimonial duties but I refused. I figured if I refused him long enough, he would be frustrated and take me back home. And that’s what I did for 6 years. I endured all the beatings and rape. I stayed adamant despite his beatings. I refused to return to his room. One night he beat me and beat me but I refused to let him win. I think he saw the defiance in my eyes and decided that he was tired of raping me for 6 years.
He called Maimuna and asked her to pack my things. He said he would take me back to makarfi first thing in the morning. He said he couldn’t continue staying with a stubborn devil like me as his wife. He told me that some time at home would be good for me to learn how to behave like a good wife. I said thank you and limped back to my room.
I couldn’t wait for morning. I couldn’t wait for my freedom to come.
When we got to makarfi was shocked when my parents pleaded with him to take me back. They refused to collect my divorce letter. Despite my swollen face and bleeding wounds, my parents were more concerned about being disgraced. I was so angry. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Even my own father that had not seen me for almost 7 years was pleading and begging malam!! I was disgusted. Thankfully he left his letter and went back to Zaria.
My parents treated me like a leper. My old friends refused to associate with me. And relatives shunned me. I was a disgrace. I was a divorced woman, damaged goods. In the eyes of society I was no good. They said I was not a good woman for refusing to stay in my matrimonial home.
One day, my aunt came from Abuja and met me. She had not seen me since my marriage; she was shocked at my situation. She decided to take me to Abuja with her. My parents didn’t object but they made snide remarks like Abuja was a place fit for prostitutes and women who refused to stay married. This thing pains me to this day. That’s how I came to Abuja and now I am in school. I am now in SS2. On weekends I also go to fashion school. I don’t know where my son is. I was told that he was sent to a tsangaya school in zamfara state. Every time I see an almajiri I wonder if he is my son.
I thank God for my aunt every day. She has given my life a new meaning. I still want to be a nurse by God’s grace but I don’t think I will ever get married again. We really need to tell ourselves the truth in Arewa, especially about our women. Marriage is not everything. We must go to school. We must contribute something to the world. As a person that was married as a child, I know firsthand that child marriage doesn’t help anybody. We are all poor and uneducated with our children roaming the streets as beggars. Who is the person that gains from all our suffering? Shouldn’t our existence mean something? All I am saying is marriage is good but it is not everything. It’s for adults not children. I don’t think I will ever recover though my aunt makes me talk about all the things that happened to me because she insists it will make me better.
Thank you for reading my story. I hope you educated city people will intervene to stop your relatives from behaving like my parents in the village. God bless you.

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Special thanks to Jaruma Magazine Editor.

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