In the state of Kano, in Nigeria, last year, a 14-year-old girl, Wasila Tasi’u, was charged with the murder of 35-year-old Umaru Sani. Wasila had been forced into marriage, and a week later, Umaru Sani died of rat poison ingestion. Despite calls from national and international women’s groups, the girl was tried in adult rather than juvenile court. As her lawyer Hussaina Aliyu, of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) said, “All we are saying is do justice to her. Treat the case as it is. Treat her as a child.” Wasila was questioned without parents, guardians or attorney present, and she confessed to the murder. No one had to confess to the forced marriage, despite the Child’s Rights Act of 2003, Section 21, invalidating any marriage contracted by anyone less than 18 years old. Her parents explained that in their region, girls marry at 14 years. According to Zubeida Nagee, a Kano-based women’s rights activist, Wasila “protested but her parents forced her to marry him.”
On June 9, the State notified the judge of willingness to drop the case, and the judge complied, saying, “I have no alternative than to pronounce according to the law that the application for nolle proseque is hereby granted.” Wasila Tasi’u is no longer behind bars, but she can’t go home again. Under the care of the Isa Wali Empowerment Foundation, Wasila will live with a foster family … perhaps for the rest of her childhood.
According to a recent editorial in the Vanguard, “Rape? No; Infant Marriage? Yes”, the State response to all of this has been regressive. The editorial explains, “Section 29 (4) (a) of the 1999 Constitution, states, `full age’ means the age of eighteen years and above; (b) any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.” With a deft hand, the legislators wrote a bill, which now sits on President Buhari’s desk, which retains the second clause while eliminating the first. If the bill becomes law, a girl entering marriage, forced or otherwise, would thereby attain “full age”. Problem solved.
Wasila Tasi’u was released from prison, and from a possible death sentence, because of the work of countless dedicated Nigerian women, individuals and groups. Wasila Tasi’u found a new home, hopefully one where she will grow healthy, learn to read and write, and enter into full womanhood, thanks to the work of countless dedicated Nigerian women. Hopefully, she will join the countless women’s groups that are organizing across Nigeria, in the courts, legislatures, streets, workplaces, clinics, schools and households.
Wasila Tasi’u is now fifteen years old, the same age Malalai Yousafzai was when she was almost killed. We stand on the shoulders of giants, who turn out to be adolescent girls.