The parents of the four year-old girl that was married to a 54 year old man in a Bayelsa says, the it was a traditional rite to save the child’s life.
The parents claimed that the marriage conducted in Akeddei community in Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa was a spiritual rite to ‘untie’ the duo who were betrothed in their previous lives.
It was gathered that the girl’s parents, the 54 year old mam, traditional ruler and others who participated in the marriage were summoned by Bayelsa government following public outcry.
It was learnt that parents of the 4 year old ‘bride’ and three others on Thursday appeared before state government’s Gender Response Initiative Team (GRIT) to explain their roles in the child marriage.
The government team, comprised the Chairman of GRiT, Dr. Dise Ogbise-Goddy the Bayelsa State Coordinator of the Child Protection Network, Kizito Andah.
Others are the Bayelsa Chairman of Bayelsa Non Government Forum Mr Taritei Boco, DO Foundation, National Human Rights Commission and Civil Society Groups
The team listened to the submissions from the father of the toddler, Mr Morris Aboma, the 54 year old husband, Mr Akpos Napoleon and the Paramount ruler, Chief Moneyman Binabo.
In their separate submissions before the government team of experts, they all insisted that the purported child marriage was a traditional practice termed “Koripamo” aimed to save little girl’s life.
They explained that it is a cultural practice in Akeddei community, Oyakiri clan that if a girl child always falls sick, a man will be required to drop a symbolic amount as token to save the little girl from dying.
The community representatives said that what transpired between the little girl and Napoleon was not a marriage but an Ijaw cultural practice called ” Koripamo”
They further explained that whenever the traditional rite of “Koripamo” is conducted the man who pays the “token ” is not required to take the girl as a wife.
The traditional rite will also not stop the girl from marrying any man of her choice when she grows up to the age of marriage.
According to the Ijaw tradition, this rite can be done on a boy child or girl child.
Father of the child, Aboma, who spoke in Ijaw language, said his daughter was always sick to the point of death.
He explained that, according to Akeddei tradition the only way to save her life is for a man to pay a symbolic price and save the child’s life and that it has nothing to do with a real marriage.
Similarly, the 54 year old man, said that the outcry that trailed the rite is regrettable as all he did was to save the child’s life as she is no longer sick again.
He further explained that such tradition has been going on but it has not been elaborately celebrated with fun fare like the Dec 26 event which drew widespread reactions and outrage.
“The little said if I don’t do what she ask me to, she will die. And because it involves life and death, I had to look for money and do the rite. As it is now, I am frustrated by this whole issue,” Napoleon lamented.
The paramount ruler of Akeddei community, Binabo in his submission said he heard of a marriage in the community during the festivities.
Binabo, however, explained that he did not have full details not until the DPO of Sagbama Police Station asked him to produce those that got married in the community.
He further said he had to invite the parents of the little girl to get detailed information on what happened on the marriage day.
He said the parents told him that the little girl had been sick and that one Napoleon had to drop a symbolic amount.
He emphasised that what happened in Akeddei community was not a formal marriage but a fulfilment of a cultural practice.
He however said that what surprised him was the demand of the little girl for an elaborate ceremony involving foods, canopy and a sound system be hired to celebrate the marriage.
The paramount ruler noted further that the man who pays the token on the girl is not expected to take her home to live as husband and wife nor stop the girl from marrying any other person of her choice when she is old enough to marry.
On their parts, Andah, and Boco, said from the submission of the parents of the little girl, the ‘husband’ and the paramount ruler of Akeddei community what happened was not a formal marriage but a cultural practice known as “Koripamo”.
The duo noted that from the information gathered, the little girl has not been sexually abused as confirmed by Dr James Omietimi at GRIT office and that the child is living a normal life without any form of relationship with the 54-year-old man.
Speaking immediately after the meeting, the chairman of GRIT , Ogbise-Goddy stated that the deliberation was frank and fruitful and promised to give further update on the matter.
She said that the Bayelsa Ministry of Women Affairs,Children and Social Development and all stakeholders will review the situation and take a decision.
“Like I had stated earlier the Bayelsa State Government is child friendly and will do anything to protect all the children of the State from any form of perceived abuse,” Ogbise-Goddy said.