In Nigeria, Married and Divorced By 14, By the time she ran away, she bore the scars of an abused woman anywhere – a swollen face, a starved body, and, barely a year after her wedding, a divorce. But for Maimuna Abdullahi, it all happened by the time she was 14.
Maimuna is one of thousands of divorced girls in Nigeria, who were forced into marriage and have since run away or been thrown out by their husbands. They are victims of a belief that girls should get wed rather than educated, which led Boko Haram terrorists to abduct more than 200 schoolgirls two months ago and threaten to marry them off.
“I’m too scared to go back home,” Maimuna whispers, as she fiddles nervously with her hands. “I know they will force me to go back to my husband.”
Her former husband, Mahammadu Saidu, 28, does not deny beating her, and blames her few years of school for her disobedience.
“She had too much ABCD,” he says. “Too much ABCD.”
Nigeria has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, despite a law that sets the age of consent at 18. The custom of child marriage is still ingrained enough that even a federal senator has married five child brides and divorced one.
Across the country, one in five girls marry before 15, according to the United Nations. In the poor Muslim north, where child marriage is often considered acceptable under shariah or Islamic law, that number goes up to one in two. Some child brides are as young as 9.
There are no official numbers for just how many of these girls get divorced, leaving them destitute, but they are all too visible. A few miles away, girls Maimuna’s age and younger are selling their bodies to truck drivers.