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Thousands of girls across Nigeria are still victims of forced and underage marriages, a practice that has further ameliorated the rates of gender and sexual-based violence among women. Often times, underage girls are married off to way older men, and they have no voice against the systems that promulgate this act or against those who perpetrate sexual violence against them, which includes but is not exclusively the men they are married off to.

Leaving these marriages is difficult and sometimes nearly impossible as these marriages happen within communities where such practices are culturally condoned, but leaving is the only step to freedom from their abusers. We have partnered with a cohort of ten organizations working in affected communities in Abuja to facilitate young girls leaving violent marriages and empower them once they have education, income-generating activity, and skill.

Buhaira was forcedly married off at 15 by members of her extended family because her parents were deceased. Against her wish, she was married off and moved out of her community to live with her husband at Bwari, some 20 miles away from her family: unprepared for marriage nor the inhumane conditions she will be living in the following years.

Getting married against her will wasn't the only thing she had to deal with; her husband began to violently and sexually abuse her. For the next six years of her marriage, Buhaira’ endured a barrage of assaults: rape, battery, verbal abuse, forced financial dependence, and isolation from family and friends, which led to Bushaira being psychologically and emotionally depressed and wanting to leave the marriage. Bushaira lets her husband's family know she wants divorce, but they won't have it. When her husband gets wind of her desire to leave the marriage, he deploys draconian measures to stop her: he threatens to kill Bushaira and her mother, breaks her phone, and locks her in their home in a bid to stop her from going out or interacting with anyone. Buhaira's right to freedom was taken away.

Thankfully, she was introduced to the Association of FCT Traditional Rulers Wives (AFTRW), one of the ten cohort organizations working with CHRICED to combat sexual and gender-based violence in the FCT, through the “Original Inhabitants Project, a two-year initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation aimed at improving the livelihoods of the FCT's original inhabitants, whose rights have been historically marginalized in Nigeria. CHRICED is providing support to the AFTRW to strengthen the traditional justice system in the FCT chiefdoms, thereby making it a safe space for victims to report cases of abuse. Since CHRICED’s intervention, over a hundred cases have been reported.

The AFTRW, with the support it had received from CHRICED, swung into action immediately after hearing Bushaira’s story. They provided her with emotional and legal support, and in April 2022, she was officially granted divorce from her husband at the Sharia court in the Bwari local government area of Anuja, Nigeria.

Bushaira returned to her family, and she was enrolled back in school in Abuja with the support CHRICED provided the AFTRW.

Today, Bushaira is free and actively advocating against sexual and gender violence, forced marriages, and underage marriages in her community. She has appeared on several state and national forums to speak against the ills of gender violence and why policies must be formulated to curb the menace. The menace must be curbed.

By donating to this cause, you’d be empowering more Bushairas to speak up against sexual and gender-based violence.