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Opinions of Sunday, 10 May 2009

Columnist: Jawando, Muhammed Suraj Sulley

Forced Marriage & the Ghanaian woman

For centuries, tradition has been used to brain-washed us into upholding the concept of arranged marriage, to some point mixing it up with religion. I was disappointed and shocked when I read a news item on-line a few weeks ago about a young girl who was thrown into a pot of hot water by her blood brother for refusing her father’s choice of husband. Although great scholars have classified marriage in Africa as arranged marriage, it is predominantly forced marriage because the women are coerced or threatened into those marriages. Normally the objection of the bride or bridegroom is ignored. Such marriages are arranged not based on love, but for economic reason, bogus religious reason and reputation of the family.

Shocked? Yes, because I find it hard to believe that a parent will raise his or her hand or voice on the daughter, because of someone you aspire to be a future son-in-law. Sometimes the parents do not even know this future in-law well enough, but he is judged by the reputation of his family or his position in the community. Although our parents have “RIGHTS and RESPONSIBILITIES”, so do us, the children. This tends to make it more of a compromise, but who are we to oppose their choice or voice our opinion. In trying to enforce their “Rights” on us, they forget that it is also their “Responsibility” to ensure that we go into a marriage happily, but not forcefully. From the moment the father sent his boys to beat the girl and throw her into hot water, her rights of choice and happiness were stumped on.

Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that, “men and women of full age have the Rights to marry and found a family. It should be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses”. I wonder if the government of Ghana knows this declaration and has started implementing it to stop this modern form of slavery that parents force their children into. Does this daughter have any more Rights in her matrimonial home which I call modern slave dungeon? What if the husband starts beating her just like he saw the father and brothers do? This makes the man more powerful over her, because he feels he has bought her from the moment he saw that situation. When will men start leaving these poor girls alone, as long as she makes it obviously clear to him and to her parents that she does not love the man? How can you build a happy matrimonial home with a woman who does not love you? This form of forced marriage sometimes leads to adultery, whereby the girl sneaks out at the least opportunity to see the man she loves, while still married to you.

In recent times parents have disrupted and crumbled the relationship and education that took years to build, for economic reasons, to send their children into forced marriages. They tend to accept the men their children bring hope until someone approaches them about another man who is interested in their children and he is from a wealthy home or from abroad. The former becomes the enemy of the family, except the girl who still loves him, and the latter becomes the toast of the family, but an enemy to the girl he intends to spend the rest of his life with. Our parents who have been teaching us not to be greedy for years hypocritically starts accepting gifts from this wealthy or burger men, and despise their daughters for rejecting them. How can you hate someone you brought forth into the world, for the sake of a man? These parents do not know how these men got their money, what they do for a living or what kind of disease they carry.

Religious connotation has been infused into the issue of forced marriage and cannot be differentiated from tradition. Yes a girl has to marry at some point in her life, but I’m yet to be shown a verse in the Holy Quran or Holy bible that teaches about forced, unhappy marriage or throwing our daughters into hot water to get them to accept the men we choose for them. Didn’t Christianity defined “marriage as an institution ordained by God for life long relationship”? Didn’t Islam also “commends it whenever the individual feels ready financially and emotionally and must take place when both parties agreed to it? And if the girl disagrees, it may not legally take place”? So where do we learn these teachings from? If the holy book teaches us to seek knowledge, what is the benefit of disrupting these girls education at the high school or university level for economic reasons to forced them into marriage. We should always remember that when you educate a girl, you educate a nation. Wouldn’t a graduate daughter be more beneficial and responsible to her parents and in her matrimonial home than the opposite? Yet our parents are not patient enough to see that materialized.

For those who believe it’s a religious Right, they should look at the Priests and Radical Imams who mislead them. Today the Priests and Radical Imams in our communities live in some of the most beautiful houses, drive some of the most flashy cars and trucks and sent their children to the most prestigious schools and educate them the highest possible level. Then wait for their children to marry men of their own choices. Yet our parents allowed themselves to be brain-washed by these radical preacher-men. Although there are some good Imams and Priests who have intervened on behalf of these innocent poor girls, much more needs to be done on behalf of these voiceless girls.

I cannot express my disappointment at the past and present government and legislators of the 4th Republic for not doing enough, by enacting laws that will protect these innocent and powerless girls. The British has already passed a legislation in 2007 that outlawed arranged marriage. Ghana can follow suit and start prosecuting irresponsible parents, who enslave their children (sometimes under-aged) into forced marriages and the men who marry these poor under-age girls. Where are the Department of Social Welfare, Federation of Women Lawyers, 31st December Women’s Movement, Women Aglow Fellowship, etc. Time is long overdue for you to stand up and fight for these innocent girls who fall victims to their cruel greedy parents. If these organizations could help educate these girls, and also teach them their Rights, then these girls can know who to turn to in times of such issues. Until the government stands up to these cruel, greedy and irresponsible parents and live up to expectation, these girls will suffer beyond being thrown into a pot of hot water.

Muhammed Suraj Sulley Jawando (LRT) NY Presbyterian Hospital, NY