The plight of a 16-year-old JHS Two pupil of the Abeka 3 Junior High School (JHS) who was forced out of school last April into marriage has stirred another controversy, pitching issues of human rights against parental authority. With the connivance of her father, Rukayatu Jibril, who was described by her head teacher and her classmates as a brilliant child, was forced out of school by her elder cousin, with whom she lived, and given out in marriage to 28-year-old Fatau Iddriss, who also happens to be her cousin.
Although Rukayatu is not happy about her early marriage and desires to go back to school, she has no choice but to adjust to her new life because her father, now living in Niger, has threatened to disown her if she ‘misbehaved’. The Children’s Act (Act 560) and the 1992 Constitution define a child as a person below the age of 18. The Children’s Act further pegs the minimum marriage age in Ghana at 18 and frowns on children being withdrawn from school for marriage. Giving a girl out in marriage without her consent is at loggerheads with the Criminal Code Amendment Act (Act 554), which is against compulsion in marriage.
Rukayatu and her cousins (her husband Fatau and Hajia Ayishetu Abdul Rahman) are nationals of Niger living in the same house at Abeka, numbered B23/5, behind the Abeka Market and about 100 metres away from the Abeka Roman Catholic Basic School. Her cousins have threatened to send her back to Niger if she did not agree to the marriage.
Meanwhile, back home her father has made it clear that he cannot accommodate her in his house if she is ‘deported’ from Ghana. “No one can force a person who is even 100 years into marriage,” Chief Inspector Irene Oppong, the Public Relations Officer of the Greater Accra Office of the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service, told the Daily Graphic. She described Rukayatu’s case as a criminal offence that DOVVSU would want to pursue.
Ms Sarah Akornor, a social worker at the Ark Foundation, a human rights advocacy non-governmental organisation (NGO), said although Rukayatu and her family were not Ghanaians, they were bound by the country’s laws so long as they lived in Ghana. Enquiries made by the Daily Graphic indicate that since the marriage ceremony on April 19, 2009, which was witnessed by her schoolmates, Rukayatu has been confined to the house, except on a few occasions when she has to go to the market, usually with a companion.
She is not as fortunate as another girl in the school who was ‘rescued’ from a similar betrothal by teachers of the school after they had convinced the parents to place the education of their daughter ahead of marriage. The staff and students of the Abeka 3 JHS are distraught by Rukayatu’s fate.
According to some of her friends, they were prevented from seeing or talking to her anytime they went to the house, adding that the only time they saw or talked to her was when she went to the market. It was quite difficult for this reporter to get in touch with Rukayatu, and when contact was finally established, she corroborated everything said by her friends. Before the marriage, it is alleged that Hajia Ayishetu, who was said to have given her own daughter who was in Primary Class Six to marriage years ago, regularly subjected Rukayatu to severe beatings, resulting in scars on her body.
It is also alleged that Hajia Ayishetu sometimes gave raw pepper to Rukayatu to chew as punishment for misbehaving. Rukayatu confirmed that Hajia Ayishetu and other sisters of her husband’s had been subjecting her to beatings occasionally. Rukayatu was born in November 1992 in Niger, where her parents live, but at a tender age she was brought to stay with her aunt (now deceased), the mother of her husband and Hajia Ayishetu, at Abeka. She had desired to continue her education to a higher level but even before she could complete the academic year in form two this year, her dream was cut short.
The acting Head Teacher of the Abeka 3 JHS, Mr Dominik Yao Amesse Akorli, expressed concern over such customary practices, saying once the female student was told to prepare for marriage, she became absent-minded in class, a development which affected her academic performance. He said the school authorities advised parents, during parent-teacher-association (PTA) meetings, to allow their daughters to complete at least senior high school before giving them out for marriage. The Circuit 38 Supervisor of the Ghana Education Service (GES), Mrs Ernestina Agyim, also advised parents not to force their daughters into early marriages but rather endeavour to cater for their education to the highest level.
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