Nigerian sentenced to 26 years after forcing Christian teen into Islamic marriage

Protesters march in support of the girls kidnapped by members of Boko Haram in front of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington May 9, 2014 | REUTERS/Gary Cameron

A federal court in Nigeria sentenced a man to 26 years in prison after he abducted a Christian teenager from her home and forced her into an Islamic marriage in 2015. 

A federal high court in Bayelsa State on Thursday sentenced Yunusa Dahiru for the abduction of Ese Oruru, according to Nigerian media outlets. 

Oruru was abducted from her mother’s shop in the Bayelsa state in August 2015 at the age of 14 by Dahiru. 

The child was taken across state lines to the Muslim-majority Kano state, where she was allegedly raped, forced to accept Islam, and married to her captor. Additionally, her name was changed to “Aisha,” the name of one of the wives of Islam's prophet Muhammad. 

Her abduction gained media attention as her parents raised public awareness. 

Months later, state police rescued Oruru in February 2016. It was revealed that the child was five months pregnant with her daughter. 

Charles Oruru, Ese’s father, praised the sentencing decision by the court in an interview with the independent Nigerian daily newspaper The Guardian

“I’m very happy and grateful because I see that all my suffering is not in vain,” the father said. “This case will serve as a deterrent to others who traffic people’s children. I thank God that truth has prevailed. I and my family are very happy.”

According to the newspaper, Dahiru was charged with conspiracy to commit an abduction in violation of an anti-trafficking law. 

Oruru and his wife say they faced much harassment in their quest to get their daughter back. 

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a nongovernment organization based in the United Kingdom that operates in over 20 countries, Rose Oruru was insulted and threatened by the chief of the village in Kano when she tried to get her daughter back. 

Although the mother petitioned the local emir for her daughter’s release, her request was unsuccessful. CSW notes that on two occasions, the mother was insulted and assaulted by people in the village as well as refused access to her daughter. 

According to CSW, Ese Oruru’s release came one day after the Nigerian newspaper The Punch launched its viral #FreeEse social media campaign. 

Criminal proceedings against Dahiru began in March 2016 but he was initially let out on bail. However, he was later rearrested for failing to appear in court. 

“We welcome this conviction and hope it will mark the beginning of an erosion of the impunity surrounding these crimes, deterring potential perpetrators and their enablers,” CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a statement. 

“It is unacceptable that young girls in Shari’a states continue to endure multiple violations of their rights to freedom of religion or belief, education, parental care and liberty and security of person, among others.”

In Nigeria, many girls and young women have been kidnapped on several different occasions by different actors like Boko Haram, Islamic State extremists, radical Fulani herdsmen and roadside gangs. 

While some abductions are for ransom payments, hundreds of schoolgirls have been abducted by Islamic extremists in northeast Nigeria, many of whom were married off to militants. 

“The only difference between these abductions and those committed by terrorist factions in north east Nigeria is that instead of trafficking underage girls to ungoverned spaces, these abductors attempt to hide behind traditional authorities who may have condoned their actions,” Thomas explained. 

“We urge the Nigerian federal authorities to become more proactive in ensuring the immediate return of abducted minors to their families, and to consistently prosecute anyone implicated in such crimes to the fullest extent of the law.”

According to Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, abductions and forced marriages of Christian girls “happens a lot” in the non-militant context in Muslim-majority northern Nigeria.

“There are even cases of Christian girls who have been abducted from the south and married off in the north,” an Open Doors dossier on Nigeria reads. 

Nigeria ranks as the 12th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List. 

In March, The Hausa Christians Foundation reported on how a Christian girl named Sadiya Amos was able to escape from her captors and reunite with her family after she was kidnapped and forced into an Islamic marriage in January. 

Last October, six Christian schoolgirls and two staff members were abducted from their school by Fulani radicals in Kaduna state. They were released nearly a month later.  

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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