This story of four young African girls is true. These girls are my nieces.
In 1995 my husband, at the tender age of 21 did something unheard of. He kidnapped and hid his nieces from their father.
Let me set the scene. His uncle had 3 wives and 21 children. They all lived in one house under the strict rules of Islam. His uncle had made arrangements for one of his daughters to marry much a much older man in his home country of Niger. We are a little unclear of her exact age at the time, but she was around 12.
When their father began to make arrangements for his daughter, his daughter refused to accept the man he had chosen for her husband. He was much older, and already had several wives. Her father was very upset about the shame she had caused him.
Embarrassed and upset he found someone else to marry her and decided to force another three of his daughters to marry at the same time. They were his daughters, he was in control, he was going to make this happen.
These girls were all under 12, all being forced to marry men with at least two existing wives, in a foreign country.
As the daughters voiced their distress, the father had only one option. He told their mothers that unless their daughters accepted the marriages, then they would be forced to leave the marital home. In Ghana when a woman leaves, she is left with only the clothes on her back. Nowhere to go, no possessions, nothing but shame.
This went on for several months. Culturally they should never have shown these feelings or displayed dissatisfaction with their fathers decision but these are strong girls. I can’t even begin to imagine what they went through and the ridicule and abuse they would have endured. The mothers were left with no choice other than to try to persuade the girls to marry, or risk being left homeless after many years of loyal devotion to their husband.
Community and family members all tried to discuss options with their father, even the Imam got involved, but in their religion, marriage is the first priority. No, he was insistent.
The girls nearly gave in, rather than risk seeing their mothers thrown onto the streets.
The oldest of the girls came to my husband desperate for help, as he is one family member they have always felt safe and able to speak to about anything. Culturally if someone is older than you, you can’t even begin to consider having these kinds of conversations about your father or any elder in your family. My husband is different and has often acted as a voice of reason in family discussions. Sadly it appeared to be too late, they were booked on a bus to leave for Niger the following morning.
My husband did the unthinkable. He snuck into their house while everyone was sleeping, took the girls and hid them from their father in a hotel.
Can you imagine? Losing face is a huge deal and his own nephew did this to him!
After a few weeks, he couldn’t sustain them in a hotel, so they stayed with him at night and made sure they were out and untraceable during the day. Occasionally they would sneak over to see their mothers but only when they knew their father would be out. After many months and much discussion, eventually the younger three were allowed to return home. The oldest wasn’t able to return, she never was welcomed back until after she had been married for some time with children of her own.
So what happened to the girls?
One was the first girl ever in the entire very large extended family to attend and complete a university degree. Can you imagine, I can’t put enough exclamation points to this one!!!!
One chose her own husband and is happily married with children to a very loving man. Her father refused to acknowledge or participate in her marriage and never met her children, but an interesting turn of events changed that. Her father was unwell in hospital and a very kind man who worked in management at that hospital ensured that all his needs were met above and beyond the normal level of care. He even took care of the substantial hospital bill. Her father invited the man to his home to thank him, not knowing he was in fact his son in law.
Another chose her husband and also has a very happy marriage. Initially her father rejected her choice as she had rejected his, but eventually after a very lengthy period of time, she managed to overcome his objections.
The youngest just graduated from university.
I am so proud of these girls and the courage they had to stand up where no girl had stood up before.
I am incredibly proud of my remarkable husband.